Health & Wellness

Self-Compassion Helps Stressed Retirees Manage

A new study suggests that you can lower your stress levels by treating yourself as you’d want others to

Photo: iStock/Devonyu.

The fact that one is no longer having to deal with the rat race of a working life doesn’t mean that retirement will be free of stress. Health problems, day-to-day finances, and any lingering regrets can weigh a person down. Reduced mobility can make it harder to keep up with errands and responsibilities around the home. The stress that results can further reduce one’s capacity to cope and in some cases lead to mental-health problems.

But according to a new study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, how we react to that stress can lower levels of the potentially harmful hormone cortisol, levels of which rise when we’re stressed.

Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal studying 233 seniors with an average age of 75 over three days and found that those who practiced self-compassion had lower levels of cortisol.

The name says it all: self-compassion involves treating yourself the same way you’d treat a friend experiencing the same sorts of ups and downs. It involves replacing negative, insulting thoughts about yourself with more compassionate and forgiving ones, and is often promoted in psychotherapy.

The researchers focussed on the three accepted parts of self-compassion: forgiving yourself, mindfulness (being aware of problems while controlling negative thoughts and not judging youself), and “common humanity” (recognizing that you’re not who’s done what you’ve done or gone though what you are).

It’s important to manage chronic stress, says Heather Herriot, the study’s lead author. “People who tend to be more stressed can have higher levels of cortisol, and this is thought to influence disease risk over time.”