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Self-Compassion Research

Self-compassion refers to treating oneself with a kind supportive attitude when one feels inadequate or experiences challenges, in contrast to responding to oneself with coldness or harsh criticism. An ever-growing body of research is demonstrating the importance of developing this skill.

Interventions that raise levels of self-compassion have been noted to improve many areas of life including improved elite athlete and footballer performance (by better recovery and learning from mistakes), increased coping with chronic illness (Sirois et al., 2015; James et al., 2022; Wilson et al., 2019) and reduced depression and loneliness over a longitudinal study of 1090 people in the community (Lee et al., 2021).

The Mindful Self Compassion (MSC) intervention for those with chronic pain was found in a randomised control trial to be more effective that CBT in reducing catastrophising, anxiety and pain interference (Torrijos‐Zarcero et al., 2021). Participants found ways of responding to ongoing difficulties by building internal coping mechanisms.

For those experiencing the effects of traumatic incidents, a meta-analysis found that self-compassion interventions reduced PTSD with a medium effect size (Luo et al., 2021), and in war veterans reduced rates of suicide (Rabon et al., 2019).

The starting level of self-compassion a combatant holds has been shown to be a greater predictor of who will develop PTSD in combat veterans than the level of traumatic incident itself (Hiraoka et al., 2015).

This is particularly relevant when considering the potential for self-compassion interventions to be used within the training pathways of high stress professions as this indicates its impact against developing future difficulties as well as reducing current difficulties.


Hiraoka, R., Meyer, E. C., Kimbrel, N. A., DeBeer, B. B., Gulliver, S. B., & Morissette, S. B. (2015). Self-compassion as a prospective predictor of PTSD symptom severity among trauma-exposed U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 28(2), 127–133.

James, I. A., Medea, B., Harding, M., Glover, D., & Carraça, B. (2022). The use of self-compassion techniques in elite footballers: Mistakes as opportunities to learn. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 15.

Lee, E. E., Govind, T., Ramsey, M., Wu, T. C., Daly, R., Liu, J., Tu, X. M., Paulus, M. P., Thomas, M. L., & Jeste, D. V. (2021). Compassion toward others and self-compassion predict mental and physical well-being: A 5-year longitudinal study of 1090 community-dwelling adults across the lifespan. Translational Psychiatry, 11(1).

Luo, X., Che, X., Lei, Y., & Li, H. (2021). Investigating the influence of self-compassion-focused interventions on posttraumatic stress: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 12(12), 2865–2876.

Rabon, J. K., Hirsch, J. K., Kaniuka, A. R., Sirois, F., Brooks, B. D., & Neff, K. (2019). Self-compassion and suicide risk in veterans: When the going gets tough, do the tough benefit more from self-compassion? Mindfulness, 10(12), 2544–2554.

Sirois, F. M., Molnar, D. S., & Hirsch, J. K. (2015). Self-compassion, stress, and coping in the context of chronic illness. Self and Identity, 14(3), 334–347.

Torrijos‐Zarcero, M., Mediavilla, R., Rodríguez‐Vega, B., Del Río‐Diéguez, M., López‐Álvarez, I., Rocamora‐González, C., & Palao‐Tarrero, Á. (2021). Mindful self‐compassion program for chronic pain patients: A randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Pain, 25(4), 930–944.

Wilson, D., Bennett, E. V., Mosewich, A. D., Faulkner, G. E., & Crocker, P. R. E. (2019). “The zipper effect”: Exploring the Interrelationship of mental toughness and self-compassion among Canadian Elite Women Athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 40, 61–70.

Mindfulness Research

There has been an exponential rise of research papers published on effects of Mindfulness from just a few hundred in 1990 to more than 30,000 in 2019. This is just a small selection:

Mindfulness for Anxiety

Mindfulness meditation training has proven to be effective in reducing the symptoms and perpetuating factors of a variety of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety. The typical mental attitudes linked to mindfulness practice and meditation exercises (i.e. acting with awareness, non-judging of experience, and non-reactivity) increase the ability to cope with negative life events, reduce self-focused attention and negative self-beliefs that are closely linked to anxiety.

Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Kabat-Zinn J., et al. (1992). American Journal of Psychiatry. 1992 Jul;149(7):936-43.

This seminal study explored the effectiveness of an MBSR programme for 28 participants with anxiety disorders (anxiety disorder and panic disorder). Repeated measures documented significant reductions in anxiety and depression scores after treatment for 20 of the subjects. Changes were maintained at a 3-month follow-up.

Mechanisms of mindfulness: Emotion regulation following a focused breathing induction.Arch J.J., & Craske M.G. (2006). Behaviour Research and Therapy, 2006 Dec;44(12):1849–58. 

The authors studied the impact of a brief meditation induction for new meditators on their responses to a series of emotionally arousing images. Participants in the meditation group reported less overall reactivity and negative affect, and were more likely to tolerate the full collection of negative images.

Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder.Goldin P.R. & Gross J.J. (2010). Emotion, 2010 Oct;10(1):83-91. 

This study demonstrated, through neuroimaging, a decrease in negative emotion experience, reduced amygdala activity, and increased activity in brain regions implicated in attentional deployment in participants with Social Anxiety Disorder.

Mindfulness for Bad Habits

Mindfulness fosters a non-judgmental, compassionate approach toward ourselves and our experiences. The practice of mindfulness increases awareness of triggers, habitual patterns, and automatic reactions to triggers (such as smoking, overeating, and alcohol or drug consumption). It supports the ability to pause, observe present experience, and gain access to a range of healthier and less impulsive choices.

Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: results from a randomized controlled trial.Brewer J.A., et al. (2011).Drug and alcohol dependence, 119(1), 72-80. 

A large group of smokers (20 cigarettes/day) received mindfulness training and showed a greater rate of reduction in cigarette use during treatment and maintained these gains during follow-up.

Mindfulness-based eating awareness training for treating binge eating disorder: the conceptual foundation.Kristeller, J. L., & Wolever, R. Q. (2011). Eating disorders, 19(1), 49-61.

Overweight or obese individuals undertook a mindfulness-based intervention (MB-EAT) and showed improvement on a range of variables, including weight loss, binge eating and psychological distress.

Depression, craving, and substance use following a randomized trial of mindfulness-based relapse prevention.Witkiewitz, K., & Bowen, S. (2010). Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 78(3), 362. 

A mindfulness-based relapse prevention programme (MBRP previously shown to be efficacious for reduction of substance use) was used to teach alternative responses to emotional discomfort and lessen the conditioned response of craving in the presence of depressive symptoms.

Mindfulness for Creativity

Creativity is not a rare gift, but rather an integral part of everyone’s makeup. In fact, mindfulness training enables more intuitive, productive and creative responses to new challenges. When we are mindful, we are open to surprise, oriented in the present moment, sensitive to context, and better able to achieve insightful problem solving.

Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking.Colzato, L., Ozturk, A. & Hommel, B. (2012). Frontiers in Psychology. 2012 Apr;3:116.

This study investigates the effects of meditation on creativity in 19 healthy adults. It was found that meditation supports a style of thinking that allows new ideas to be generated.

Stepping out of history: Mindfulness improves insight problem solving.Ostafin, B. & Kassman, K. (2012).Consciousness and Cognition. 2012 Jun;21(2):1031-1036.

This study involving 157 participants (across two research studies) showed a positive relation between mindful awareness and insight problem solving and creativity. In both studies, individuals with greater trait mindful awareness were better able to solve insight problems, which requires overcoming habitual responses derived from prior experience.

Meditation promotes insightful problem-solving by keeping people in a mindful and alert conscious state. Ren J., et al. (2011). Science China Life Sciences. 2011 Oct;54(10):961-965.

The authors found direct evidence for the role of meditation in producing insight (problem-solving). The results implied that it was the watchfulness or mindful and alert state during meditation, rather than relaxation, that actually contributed to insight. 

Mindfulness Meditation for Depression

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends mindfulness as a method of relapse prevention in recurrent depression. Research has in fact shown that mindfulness can reduce the risk of future clinical depression by 50% in people who have already been depressed several times; its effectiveness comparable to that of antidepressant medications. New evidence supporting the use of mindfulness for people experiencing a current episode of anxiety and depression is currently being developed.

The efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as a public mental health intervention for adults with mild to moderate depressive symptomatology: a randomized controlled trial. Pots W.T., et al., (2014). PLoS One. 2014 Oct 15;9(10). 

A total of 150 participants with mild to moderate depressive symptoms were randomly assigned to a mindfulness-based intervention or to a waiting list control group. Significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and experiential avoidance, and improvements in mindfulness and emotional- and psychological mental health occurred for the group that received the mindfulness-based intervention.

Antidepressant Monotherapy vs Sequential Pharmacotherapy and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, or Placebo, for Relapse Prophylaxis in Recurrent Depression.Zindel V., et al. (2010). Archives of General Psychiatry. 2010 Dec;67(12):1256-64.

This study randomly assigned 84 patients in remission from major depression to one of three groups: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), standard care (continuation of their medication for 18 months), and placebo. Results showed that MBCT offers protection against relapse/recurrence on a par with that of maintenance antidepressant pharmacotherapy.

An exploratory study of group Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for older people with depression.Meeten F. et al., (2014). Mindfulness. ISSN 1868-8527 (In Press). 

The study showed improvements in depression, anxiety, ‘purpose in life’, and ‘self-growth’ in a group of older people with recurrent and/or chronic depression after attending a mindfulness course.

Mindfulness for Focus and Attention

Mindfulness involves cultivating the capacity to ‘attend to’ the situation at hand in ways that are purposeful and well-balanced. Across a range of contexts, mindfulness has been shown to improve sustained attention, learning, and performance. Research on the application of mindfulness to job performance recognized that mindfulness enhances cognitive flexibility and promotes executive functioning – qualities instrumental to performance across a range of tasks. Practicing mindfulness exercises in addition to physical training also improves mental and physical performance in sports.

Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention.MacLean, K. A., et al. (2010). Psychological Science. 2010 June;21(6):829-39.

In a sample of 60 participants, mindfulness training produced improvements in visual discrimination, increases in perceptual sensitivity and improved vigilance, making it easier to sustain voluntary attention and focus while resisting distraction.

Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.Hölzel, B.K., et al. (2011). Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. 2011 Jan;191(1):36-43.

MBSR intervention increased gray matter density in the brain regions associated with learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective thinking.

Mindfulness for long-distance runners: an open trial using Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE).de Petrillo L.A., et al. (2009). Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology. 2009 Dec;3(4). 

This study on long distance runners highlighted a significant increase in state mindfulness and trait awareness and decreases in sport-related worries, personal standards perfectionism, and parental criticism.

Examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention. Dane E., & Bradley J. (2014). Human Relations. 2014 Jan;67(1):105-128.

The authors found support for a positive relationship between workplace mindfulness and job performance after controlling for the influence of three dimensions of work engagement on performance (vigor, dedication, and absorption). They also found a negative relationship between workplace mindfulness and turnover intention.

Mindfulness for Pain and Illness

Mindfulness contributes to physical wellbeing and is an effective complementary practice while undergoing treatment for a wide variety of medical conditions. These include cancer, chronic pain, asthma, diabetes, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, and hypertension. Mindfulness was initially adopted to help people deal with the psychological stress related to having long-term or terminal conditions. Further studies have also shown positive effects in the immune system, cardiovascular system, and endocrine system.

An Outpatient Program in Behavioral Medicine for Chronic Pain Patients Based on the Practice of Mindfulness Meditation: Theoretical Considerations and Preliminary ResultsKabat-Zinn J., et al. (1982). General Hospital Psychiatry. 1982 Apr;4(1):33-47. 

Fifty-one patients with chronic pain underwent a 10-week mindfulness-based programme. Results showed a 33% reduction of pain in more than 50% of the patients. Results were confirmed at a 6-month follow-up.

Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation.Davidson R.J., et al. (2003). Pyschosomatic Medicine. 2003 Jul-Aug;65(4):564-570. 

This randomised-controlled trial explored the biological processes associated with mindfulness meditation. It was found that meditation increased positive effects and boosted the immune system of subjects in the meditation group compared with those in the wait-list control group.

One year pre–post intervention follow-up of psychological, immune, endocrine and blood pressure outcomes of MBSR in breast and prostate cancer outpatients. Carlson L.E., et al. (2007). Brain, Behavior and Immunity. 2007 Nov;21(8):1038-49. 

MBSR programme participation was associated with enhanced quality of life and decreased stress symptoms. Altered cortisol, and immune patterns consistent with less stress and mood disturbance, and decreased blood pressure were recorded at a follow-up in 41 patients with breast or prostate cancer.

Mindfulness for Relationships

Mindfulness enables people to bring more attention to relationships and to better appreciate their time with others. People who practice mindfulness are able to express themselves better, are less reactive to relationship conflicts, and less likely to think negatively of their partners as a result of conflict. Mindfulness promotes empathy and a more skillful use of our emotional repertoire in marital relationships and parenting.

Mindfulness skills and interpersonal behaviourDekeyser M., et al. (2008). Personality and Individual Differences 2008 Apr;44(5):1235-1245.

This study identified that elements of mindfulness were positively associated with expressing oneself in various social situations. A greater tendency for mindful observation was also associated with empathy, better identification and description of feelings, more body satisfaction, less social anxiety, and less distress contagion.

Mindful relating: Exploring mindfulness and emotion repertoires in intimate relationships.Wachs K., et al. (2007). Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 2007 Oct;33(4):464-481. 

This study on married couples found that emotion skills and mindfulness are both related to marital adjustment. Mindfulness was associated with superior emotions skill in the domains of empathy, improved ability to identify and communicate emotions, and the skillful handling of anger.

Integrating Mindfulness with Parent Training: Effects of the Mindfulness-Enhanced Strengthening Families Program.Coatsworth J.D, et al. (2014). Developmental Pyschology. 2014 Nov 3 [Epub ahead of print]. 

A Mindfulness-Enhanced Strengthening Families Program (MSFP) was found effective in improving multiple dimensions of parenting, including interpersonal mindfulness in parenting, parent-youth relationship quality, youth behaviour management, and parent well-being. 

Mindfulness for Stress

Stress is a normal response to life events, but beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing damage to the body, mood, productivity and quality of life. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the physiological and psychological reactions to stress including excessive arousal and emotional reactivity. Regular practice affects the brain’s neural pathways, and in particular it moderates the activation of the amygdala, the brain structure crucial in stress responses, making mindfulness meditators more resilient to stress.

Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Kabat-Zinn J., et al. (1992). Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 5. 11-17. 

The study used anatomical MR images to identify the effects on the amygdala of an 8-week MBSR intervention. The intervention significantly reduced perceived stress and neuroplastic changes in the amygdala, associated with improvements in psychological states, were reported. 

The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment.Levy, D., et al. (2012). Proceedings of Graphics Interface. 45-52. 

Those training in mindfulness stayed on task longer and made fewer task switches. They also reported less negative emotions after task performance, as compared with the other two control groups.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: a meta-analysis.Grossman P., et al. (2004). Journal of Psychosomatic Research 57 35─43.

The authors performed a comprehensive review of health-related studies related to MBSR. Twenty reports met the inclusion criteria and the review suggested that MBSR may help a broad range of individuals cope with their clinical and non-clinical problems.

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