As it's been a couple of days' since the last post on this subject, let’s set out the train of events again, so we all know what I’m actually talking about in this post: the emotion of compassion and the hormone / neurotransmitter oxytocin are very closely linked.
When a person is low on oxytocin, they will feel stressed-out nearly all the time, and also be low on compassion and empathy. That means that they'll find it very difficult to feel other people’s pain, see their side of the story, or relate to them in a caring, nurturing way.
This behavior is the hallmark of pretty much every personality disorder you care to mention, plus a whole bunch of other mental and emotional issues including depression, autism and probably 300 other ‘disorders’, too.
The other side of the coin is that when a person is low on compassion, they will be low on oxytocin – because remember, the holistic health model is that all three parts of the body, mind and soul are simply reflecting and affecting each other.
So here comes the coolest piece of information you'll probably read today: if you can find a way to boost a person’s compassion, and particularly, to boost their feelings of self-compassion (which is NOT the same as self-confidence or self-esteem) – then they’ll start to produce more of that caring, sharing, bonding oxytocin hormone, and they’ll be able to start relating to other people (and themselves…) in a more caring, compassionate way.
Personality disorders, and probably nearly all the other mental health issues out there are simply varieties of the same underlying problem: people don’t like themselves, and they don’t think other people like them, and they don’t believe God loves them or cares about them, or that their existence really matters in any meaningful way. This usually occurs because of some sort of chronic or acute traumatic experience they had as children.
Again, there is so much to unpack in that paragraph, and it’s going to take me at least a few weeks’ of posting to do the ideas I’m laying out here proper justice, so bear with me in the meantime.
Boost compassion, reduce mental illness
But in a nutshell: boosting compassion and self-compassion is one very effective holistic ‘in’ to starting to overcome pretty much any mental issue you care to name. So now the question is: HOW do you boost compassion and self-compassion? I mean, if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it already…
As with all things health-related, the problem has to be approached across the three levels of body, mind and soul. So let’s kick off with the soul aspect today, which is where prayer / meditation / mindfulness / talking to God – whatever you want to call it – comes in.
If you cast your mind back to the first post, you’ll remember that one of the main ways oxytocin gets wiped out is when someone is experiencing extreme or chronic stress. (We’ll come back to the more physical and emotional aspects of this idea in much more detail in future posts.)
When someone is ‘stressed-out’, and their fight-or-flight response has kicked in, hormonally speaking their body is now producing huge quantities of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. To put it very simplistically, the more stress hormones a person is producing, the more ‘stressed-out’ they feel – antsy, jumpy, agitated, can’t sit still, can’t ‘be’, heart racing, thoughts running a mile a minute in their head.
The following quote comes from one of the scientific studies done in Compassion: Bridging the Gap which examined the physiological changes that occurred in volunteers who learnt to meditate / pray / talk to God – however you want to describe that process – but with a particular emphasis on developing more compassion for themselves and others:
“We found an intriguing association between amount of meditation practiced…and cortisol responses. Participants who engaged in significant ‘at home’ practice had no reduction in how much cortisol increased in response to the stressor, but had their cortisol levels return to the pre-stressor baseline significantly faster than individuals with minimal practice time…These results suggest that compassion training may preserve appropriate acute stress responses, while at the same time attenuating non-adaptive prolonged stress responses once the stressor has passed.”
The more you talk to God, the less stress you experience
In plain English, the more time people spent meditating / talking to God, the faster their stress reaction got switched off, and the less stress hormones they had running around their bodies and making them feel stressed out. They still reacted to a shock, challenge or scare by producing adrenaline et al (again, this is the ‘fight-of-flight’ reaction); BUT once the problem or issue had passed, their stress levels went back to normal, healthy levels much faster.
So now we have our first bit of information about how to reduce stress and boost oxytocin, leading to more caring, nurturing compassionate and emotionally-healthy behavior: learn how to talk to God, and engage in that practice regularly.
If you want some help, you can pick up a free copy of the How, what and why of talking to God HERE, or go here to buy Talk to God and Fix Your Health.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at what we can do to start boosting compassion on the emotional / mind front.