In a recent Doctor Who episode, The Doctor (a time and space-traveling alien, who is known to save people from danger) is faced with his arch nemesis, Davros, the creator of the Daleks (an evil alien race). Davros states that The Doctor’s compassion is a sign of weakness. But is it really?
Science actually seems to suggest the opposite. For example, people who actively practice cultivating compassion for others are less likely to experience anxiety and stress and are more likely to experience happiness. This in turn, can lead to better health and even a prolonged lifespan.
Chronic stress and anxiety can be damaging to our health, potentially damaging our immune system and making us more likely to experience physical or mental illness. The good news is that we can be better at stress management. Researcher and health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, writes in her amazing new book, The Upside of Stress that we can learn to manage stress in ways that would not be damaging but maybe even beneficial for our bodies. One of her recommendations for stress management is meaningful human connection. In fact when we connect with others, the way that The Doctor does with people he cares about, our bodies release certain chemicals, like the hormone oxytocin. This hormone helps strengthen our immune system and has been implicated in promoting better physical and emotional health. In addition, a recent research study shows that awe-producing experiences, like connecting with nature or a piece of art, or another human being, can reduce inflammation. Since stress and inflammation are involved in several physical and mental illnesses, and since compassion and meaningful experiences help reduce these, then it is fair to say that The Doctor’s compassion is a strength. Caring for ourselves and others, being kind and altruistic, mindfully enjoying our daily experiences, these are our superpowers and no Daleks can take these away.
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full time geek. She uses Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and PTSD at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management and Sharp Memorial Hospital. Dr. Scarlet also teaches at Alliant International University, San Diego. Her book, Superhero Therapy, is expected to be released in July 2016 with Little, Brown Book Group. If you would like to learn more about Superhero Therapy, please feel free to contact Dr. Janina Scarlet via Twitter @shadowquill, Facebook, or via her website at www.superhero-therapy.com.