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Rohleder publishes on self-compassion and reduced levels of stress

Published: April 25, 2014
Section: News

Psychology professor Nicholas Rohleder published a paper in “Brain, Behavior and Immunity” that reports a connection between self-compassion and reduced levels of stress-related inflammation.

Rohleder, the co-director of the Laboratory for Biological Health Psychology or the Health Psychology Laboratory at Brandeis University, conducts research that addresses the question of “how acute and chronic stress is translated into pathophysiological mechanisms at the level of organs and cells.” In short, he evaluates how stress physically affects the human body. In addition to stress, the Health Psychology Laboratory also studies depression, traumatization and anxiety. Studies conducted by the laboratory have both children and adults participate. Rohleder also conducts research on how repeated stress impacts the organs of the body and how it relates to the aging process.

The report, which graduate students Danielle Gianferante, Luke Hanlin and Xuejie Chen and postdoctoral fellows Juliana Breines and Myriam Thoma co-authored, could lead to more efficient ways of managing stress. The American Federation of Aging Research provided the grant that funded the study.

Psychological stress, like injury or disease, can lead to biological reactions which, if unchecked, can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular illness and cancer. Someone who is more self-compassionate does not hold themselves accountable for circumstances beyond their control and does not dwell for long on grievances—and as the study shows, is healthier for it.

To illuminate the relationship between self-compassion and inflammation that results from stress, the researchers had 41 participants rank how self-compassionate they perceive themselves to be. The participants quantified how true certain statements are for them, such as “I try to be understanding and patient toward aspects of my personality I do not like,” and “I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies.” Afterwards, the participants in the study took two stress tests over a two-day period, and the researchers recorded their levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), “an inflammatory agent linked to stress” according to a BrandeisNOW article.
The findings were clear: Subjects more inclined to cut themselves some slack had much lower IL-6 levels. People who reported having low self-compassion had greater IL-6 levels before the test, the implication being that the previous day’s stress was continuing to affect them.
“The high responses of IL-6 on the first day and the higher baseline levels on the second day suggest that people with low self-compassion are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of this kind of stress,” Rohleder said to BrandeisNOW. “Hopefully, this research can provide more effective ways to cope with stress and reduce disease, not only by relieving negative emotions but by fostering positive ideas of self-compassion.”
Going easier on yourself, it seems, helps to avoid the adverse health effects commonly brought on by stress. This study illustrates the need for better and more comprehensive approaches to managing stress, which is of the utmost importance when it comes to health. Advocating self-compassion and a sense of perspective, Rohleder and his team hope that their findings will change the way people approach the world and its challenges for the better.