Compassion as a mediator between stressful events and perceived stress in Greek students

Compassion as a mediator between stressful events and perceived stress in Greek students

E. Tholouli A. Maridaki-Kassotaki, L. Varvogli, G.P. Chrousos

Psychiatriki 2016, 27:89–97


Compassion is closely related with human’s survival as a mammal and has been developed through evolution for pain reduction, for forming affiliative bonds and alliances with non kin in order to increase protection and cope with external threats.

Compassion seems to influence people’s ability to deal with life’s adverse situations such as stress and it is linked with lower psychopathology and greater wellbeing. Compassion is closely related to empathy and altruism and it is defined as the recognition of the pain of the self or others’ that is accompanied with the will to take action in order to relieve the person from pain. Its main features are kindness instead of self-judgment and indifference, the recognition of common humanity instead of the feeling of separation and mindfulness when facing adverse conditions instead of over-identification with one’s pain or disengagement with the pain of others.

According to the biopsychosocial approach, stress can be defined by three dimensions such as the cause or stressful factors that can be major life events or daily hassles, the perception of stress that is manifested through cognitive, emotional and behavioural reactions and the physiological response for achieving homeostasis.

The purpose of the present study was to investigate the role of compassion for self and others in the occurrence of stressful events and levels of perceived stress in students. Participants were 280 undergraduate students from two Greek universities.

Results indicated that students who had experienced a greater number of stressful events during the past year reported having higher levels of perceived stress and that higher self-compassion was correlated with less perceived stress.

Moreover, the adverse effect of stressful events on perceived stress was partially explained by the mediating role of self-compassion.

Students who reported more stressful events showed higher compassion for others in opposition to compassion towards themselves but compassion for others was not significantly correlated with perceived stress.

Since compassion is not considered being a fixed personality trait but it is seen as a capacity that can be developed by appropriate training it was suggested that enhancing self-compassion’s stress buffering properties can be useful for dealing with stressful events and reducing stress responses. Moreover, it was suggested that it is interesting to explore the relationship between compassion for others and positive characteristics such as sense of coherence, quality of life and social support that may enhance stress resilience indirectly.

The above findings imply that it is important to investigate further the role of compassion in coping with stress in qualitative, longitudinal studies as well as randomized control trials. Compassion may be an alternative mechanism for coping with stressful events and stress, other than fight or flight that has been shaped by evolution.

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