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Having compassion is good for one’s health


A study by UNC Chapel Hill psychologist, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson indicates that focusing on warm, compassionate thoughts is good for one’s health. A study by UNC Chapel Hill psychologist, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson indicates that focusing on warm, compassionate thoughts is good for one’s health. [/caption]

Many people have noted that the mood of the country has changed. There seems to be a change in how some are behaving. People for some reason have been given license to mistreat others. Some would even say that civility is now dead. Political correctness has been thrown out of the window and it is apparently ok to say whatever is on one’s mind and have no consideration as to how those words may affect others. Retaliation against behaviors that are offensive is also up. Respect seems to have withered away. This has caused many to feel on edge and uncomfortable.

How do these acts affect the health of others? Are those who have pent up emotions healthier once such feelings are expressed? Are those who have experienced hurtful things thus less healthy? Are both of these situations a net wash with no change in the health of either person?

A study was performed by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the study, students were taught to think compassionately about others as well as themselves. This study looked in depth at the vagus nerve. Past studies have shown that the vagus nerve is connected to cardiovascular health. This nerve may also play a part in regulating glucose and the immune system. What I found intriguing was the fact that the vagus nerve is also involved in how we connect with each other. Surprising to me was the fact that it is involved with the nerves that make our ears perk up when we hear a human voice. It also affects eye responses. This nerve also regulates emotional expressions and it is influential in releasing a hormone known as oxytocin, which is important in social bonding.

All of the research participants were tested before the start of a six week course. Half of the participants were assigned to take a one hour a week course for six weeks in “lovingkindness” meditation. Participants here focused on warm, compassionate thoughts about themselves and others. After the six week course, there was an overall increase in positive emotions such as joy, serenity, hope and amusement among the group that learned “lovingkindness.”

“It kind of softened up their heart to be more open to others,” stated Dr. Fredrickson.

The study also found that vagus nerve tone was increased in participants who achieved a greater happiness and felt more socially connected to others. Their health was affected positively.

I am anticipating the first studies that will address how one’s health is affected by a loss of civility. I am certain the results will be bleak. Hope our policy makers have healthcare figured out soon.

Dr. Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on North Carolina A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. Email Dr. Bland at