Self-compassion, age-related stressors, and cortisol secretion in older adulthood

  • H. Herriot
  • C. Wrosch
  • J. Gouin


Background: With the onset of old age many individuals experience an increase in various age-related stressors (e.g., life regrets, acute physical problems, or functional disabilities) that can trigger disturbances in biological processes, such as cortisol section. A psychological factor that may protect older adults’ physiological functioning in the context of age-related stressors relates to self-compassion. Self-compassion is defined by having a kind, non-judgmental, and supportive attitude towards oneself during times of stress or failure. Previous work among younger populations showed that self-compassion can influence emotional reactivity to stress and is associated with more adaptive biological responses to stress. This study examined whether self-compassion could also benefit older adults’ cortisol secretion in the context of age-related stressors. Methods: A cross-sectional study examined 233 community-dwelling older adults for their levels of self-compassion, age-related stressors (regret intensity, acute physical problems, and functional disability) and relevant covariates. Diurnal cortisol was measured on three non-consecutive days and the averaged area-under-the-curve (AUC) was calculated. Findings: Multiple regression analyses revealed significant interactions between age-related stressors and self-compassion (|ts| > -1.99, ps < .05). Follow up analyses documented that greater self-compassion was associated with reduced daily cortisol secretion among individuals who reported higher levels of regret intensity, acute physical symptoms, and functional disability (|ts| > -2.48, ps < .02), but not among their counterparts who reported low levels of age-related stressors (ts < .69, ps > .49). Discussion: These results suggest that self-compassion may represent an important personal resource that could protect older adults from stress-related biological disturbances.
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