‘Self-compassion’ helps students deal with stress: Study

A new study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) found that self-compassion in first-year students helps reduce stress and improve motivation.

The study took place over a five-month timespan and surveyed 189 first-year UBC students, analyzing if an increase in self-empathy would prompt a change in mental and physiological fulfillment.

The study defines self-compassion as “self-kindness,” which involves not being “overly critical of oneself . . . recognizing failure is universal . . . and mindfulness, which means being present and calm in the moment.”

UBC kinesiology professor Peter Crocker, the study’s co-author, previously found that female athletes who reported elevated amounts of self-compassion felt lower levels of self-criticism and negative thoughts, according to a release from the school.

Katie Gunnell, the study’s lead author and a junior research scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, said she suggests students write down personal problems as if they are writing to a friend.

“When we write like this, we often write in a more compassionate manner, less cruel to our friends instead of ourselves,” Gunnell said.

She said the concept of mindfulness, when paired with self-compassion, acts like checks and balances for thought processes and reminds us that we are human.

“Mistakes are part of the human experience,” Gunnell said. “Perfectionists are more hard on themselves and prone to ruminate on self-critical thoughts.”

Perfectionism is a common trait among students, especially those who did well in high school, she said.

Gunnell also said the fear of having a bad future, not getting a job in a bad economy, and the fear of not getting enough out of one’s life can all influence negative thoughts.

“Look on the experience and learn from it. For example, when you’re looking back at bad marks and instead of saying ‘I’m stupid,’ try to look at where you went wrong. Not enough studying [means] bad time management. Take the focus off of yourself and look at your habits,” she said.

Carleton University and the Student Alliance for Mental Health offer mental health and counselling services for students with mental health issues and stress.