For the study, published in journal Clinical Psychological Science, the 135 participants were separated into five groups.
Each group was presented with a different set of audio instructions, some of which encouraged the participants to think kindly about themselves and others which persuaded them to think in a self-critical manner.
After listening to the audio instructions, the participants were asked to answer a series of questions including whether they felt safe, how likely they were to show themselves kindness and how connected they felt to other individuals.
The researchers also noted the heart rate and sweat responses of the group after they listened to the 11-minute clips.
The participants who were instructed to think kindly about themselves were more likely to exhibit a bodily response associated with being relaxed and feeling safe.
Their heart rates also dropped, which the researchers state is a "healthy sign of a heart that can respond flexibly to situations."
Those who listened to the critical audio clips were noted as having a higher heart rate and sweat response afterwards, both of which indicate "feelings of threat and distress".
According to the team, having the ability to switch off the body's natural threat response can boost a person's immune system and in turn, give them a greater likelihood of recovering quickly from illness.
“These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing," says Dr Hans Kirschner of the University of Exeter, first author of the study.
Willem Kuyken, professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford and co-author of the study, believes these findings could be particularly beneficial for people who've been diagnosed with depression.
“These findings help us to further understand some of our clinical trials research findings, where we show that individuals with recurrent depression benefit particularly from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy when they learn to become more self-compassionate," he says.
“My sense is that for people prone to depression, meeting their negative thoughts and feelings with compassion is a radically different way – that these thoughts are not facts.
“It introduces a different way of being and knowing that is quite transformative for many people.”
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