We humans have a tendency to compartmentalize. We’re not always good at seeing the big picture, whether it’s on the micro-level of the health of our own bodies or the macro-level of the health of our entire home planet.
It’s something I ponder regularly, and some recent research published in Health Psychology reinforced my thinking, nudging me to share my thoughts here.
For the study, titled “Self-Compassion and Subclinical Cardiovascular Disease Among Midlife Women,” authors Rebecca Thurston, Megan Fritz, Yuefang Chang, Emma Barinas Mitchell and Pauline Maki sought to determine the impact of self-compassion on physical health. They define self-compassion as “a positive psychological construct characterized by extending compassion toward oneself, often during periods of suffering.”
They determined that women with high degrees of self-compassion had lower IMT thickness. Intima-media thickness (IMT) can indicate your risk for heart disease and stroke. Those with lower IMT thickness are at lower risk—and on the other side of that coin, higher thickness equals higher risk.
So, a little bit of kindness toward oneself could mean lower risk for heart health issues. What’s more, self-compassion’s impact held even when the research team accounted for other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like insulin resistance and obesity. I don’t think I’m the only one wondering how much self-compassion is lacking in people struggling with these kinds of chronic issues.
To me, the research shines a bright light on the importance of a macro-level view of health. Our culture tends to overemphasize the importance of “diet and exercise” for maintaining health, while vastly understating the importance of things like proper rest, good mental health and human connection.
Eating a wide range of nutritious foods and moving our bodies are important steps to take for our health—but how much can these healthy habits help us if we continually ignore our need for sleep? How much self-loathing does it take to undermine the metaphorical daily apple?
Many of you put in daily effort to boost the health of your communities by providing healthy physical and recreational activities. You offer fitness programming and opportunities for people of all ages to get active and connect with one another. You invest in and develop infrastructure that makes it easier for people to take care of their bodies. But I’m wondering … do you keep the whole health of your community in mind? (I’m guessing that many of you do.) And I’m curious to know if there are ways to help grow people’s self-compassion at the same time we’re encouraging them to get their blood pumping.
I have no answers, but it seems as though the continuing work toward greater inclusiveness and diversity goes hand-in-hand with these ideas, and I’m hopeful that we are approaching a new era—when we find ways to embrace and grow a more complicated, holistic view of the relationship between our bodies, minds and communities.
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