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Be Kind to Yourself: You Just Might Age Better
Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Fri, Feb 22nd 2013
Be kind to ourselves? Now that's a foreign concept. When you consider our society's "win at all costs" mentality, we're constantly taught to push ourselves to the limit, beat ourselves up when we fail, and define ourselves through others' ideas of achievement.
Yet according to a study recently published in The Gerontologist, showing ourselves a little compassion can go a long way toward being healthy and happy as we age.
In the study, 121 older adults with an average age of 76.2 years completed questionnaires that measured self-compassion and self-esteem. Next, they were randomly assigned to write about an age-related event that was positive, negative, or neutral. To explore how self-esteem and self-compassion may have impacted the participants' feelings about the event, follow-up questions were asked and analyzed for relevant themes.
Interestingly, self-compassion rose above self-esteem as a contributing factor. The older adults who exhibited more compassion toward themselves generally had more positive responses to aging, regardless of whether age-related events were positive, negative, or neutral. These folks also felt that their attitude helped them cope with age-related stressors. The researchers suggested that encouraging older adults to be more self-compassionate may improve their well-being.
I buy this idea, as it's common sense that being kind to yourself is going to make you feel better, even in the midst of stressful events. But how exactly do you teach someone to develop self-compassion? While there's little written about this specifically for older adults, there's plenty written for all ages. Try a quick web search for "self-compassion" and you'll find more information about techniques such as:
- Journaling and other writing exercises
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Decreasing negative self-talk (a component of cognitive-behavioral therapy)
- Applying spiritual principles to self-compassion
- Bibliotherapy (reading books about self-compassion)
I applaud the researchers for exploring such an important topic. While some may think of self-compassion as a soft subject, I can see its solid influence on emotional wellness and quality of life. Being kind to ourselves - physically, emotionally, and spiritually - is something that should begin in childhood in order to nurture resilience and happiness throughout life. If you have suggestions and personal experiences related to self-compassion, please share them here. You just might help someone create the compassionate foundation that he or she so desperately needs.
Allen, A. B., & Leary, M. R. (2013). Self-compassionate responses to aging. The Gerontologist, Advance Online Access. DOI: 10.1093/geront/gns204