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Practising self-compassion during distressing moments can have a positive effect on the brain and the body, new research shows.

The research results come at a time  when people are experiencing frustration and hardship due to COVID-19.

The study, led by University of Queensland School of Psychology with researchers from the Stanford University’s Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and the UK’s Compassion Mind Foundation, looked at the effects of brain and body when people were either compassionate or critical about themselves.

“Using brain imaging techniques, we found that when faced with rejection or disappointment, practicing compassion helped reduce activation within brain regions associated with threat, such as the amygdala,” PHD candidate Jeffery Kim said.

“In contrast, people who were critical of themselves due to these disappointments had heightened activation within the brain’s neural networks associated with threat and pain.”

Study participants undertook Compassionate Mind Training for two weeks, and were then tested for any impact on their bodies’ responses.

“Cultivating compassion resulted in an increased parasympathetic response, which is very good – having low HRV or low parasympathetic activation is not ideal for physical and mental health,” Mr Kim said.

“Further, people who began the trial with lower resting HRV also engaged more in the intervention, possibly as they derived more benefits, both self-reported and physiologically, from engaging in compassion.

“So, if someone is critical of themselves for not being able to ‘hold it all together’ during the pandemic, then engaging in compassionate practice will be beneficial to their mental health.”

The Compassionate Self exercise is free online and takes 15 minutes to complete.