"I'm at risk for heart disease? " self-compassion and reactions to a health threat


Self-compassion (SC), treating oneself kindly in the face of setbacks, can decrease negative emotions and promote health behaviours. SC may mitigate negative emotions about being at-risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and may promote adaptive health behaviour self-regulation. No research has examined SC in the context of CVD. We examined SC's relationship with responses to CVD risk. Participants were 102 women (Mage = 66.50, SD = 6.04), with a CVD risk score (Rassmussen criteria) of 3 or higher. Participants met with a research assistant on three occasions. First, baseline levels of physical activity (PA) were measured. Second, participants' level of SC, health-promoting lifestyle habits, illness self-blame and immediate reactions to news of being moderate to high risk of CVD were measured (negative affect). One week later, PA, negative affect and health behaviours were measured. Semi-partial correlations, controlling for self-esteem, revealed baseline SC was correlated to self-report PA (r = .24, p = .01), nutrition (r = .28, p = .02), stress management (r = .37, p < .00), and health responsibility (r = .31, p = .001) and negatively related to illness self-blame (r = -.35, p < .001). Immediately after receiving risk information, SC was inversely related to negative affect (r = -.23, p = .01) controlling for self-esteem. SC predicted unique variance, over self-esteem, with seeking health information (B = -.87, r2 = .08, p = .05) over the following week. SC may assist with adaptive reactions and self-regulation after learning one is at-risk for CVD.

Acknowledgments: University of Manitoba Graduate Fellowship