Self-compassion and psycho-physiological reactivity and recovery from recalled sport failure
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Sport failure can precipitate emotional distress that is detrimental to athletes’ mental health and performance. Self-compassion (SC), treating oneself kindly in response to failure, may help athletes manage failure; it buffers against negative psychological responses, yet athletes often fear SC. It is unknown whether the benefits of SC extend to athletes’ physiological responses to failure and whether fear of self-compassion (FOSC) has an influence beyond SC. This study’s purpose was to examine SC’s influence on athletes’ psychological and physiological responses to a sport failure, and determine if FOSC exerted unique effects, beyond SC. Participants (M age=21) in this laboratory-based, observational study were 91 university or national-level athletes. A multi-modal biofeedback system was used to measure physiological responses at baseline, while imagining a past performance failure (reactivity), and during recovery. Physiological responses were assessed according to participants’ i) reactivity and ii) recovery phases, relative to baseline scores. Psychological responses were assessed using behavioural reactions, thoughts, and emotion measures. Regression analyses revealed that SC predicted athletes’ physiological recovery, in the form of heart rate variability (β = .37, p < .01) but not their reactivity. SC associated with adaptive behavioural reactions (β = .46, p < .01), and negatively related to maladaptive thoughts (β = -.34, p < .01) and emotions (β = -.39, p < .01). FOSC explained additional variance in maladaptive thoughts and behaviours. SC may promote adaptive physiological and psychological responses in athletes relative to recalled sport failures and may have implications for performance, recovery and health.