By Diana Cazares, LPC, NCC, M.S., integrative behavioral health clinician
Empathy and Emotional Wellness
During times of difficulties, we may feel all over the place. One way to feel more present and grounded is to strengthen our feelings of empathy for other people in our lives. Empathy is the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings. We are all interconnected, and when we work on our skills in being empathic, we can improve our emotional wellness and support others in doing the same.
How can we do this? Here are a few ways to strengthen your ability to feel empathy for others.
Start with self-compassion
“How are you REALLY doing?” Have you done an internal check in? Are you holding tension in your neck or shoulders? Self-compassion is really the initial building block of empathy, because how can you have empathy for others if you don’t have it for yourself? Have you challenged that inner critic in your head or those not-so-helpful thoughts? Slow down, do some deep breathing, and give yourself mental and physical breaks throughout the day.
Slow down to create a healthier mind
Before we can feel empathy for others, we need to slow down our own thoughts. We may be feeling the pressure or the hum of anxiety in the back of our minds with all we see and hear around us. What are you really absorbing, consciously and unconsciously? Take time to help your brain slow down. You can write down your thoughts on a piece of paper and walk away from it for five minutes, then you can always come back to the piece of paper and those thoughts. Slowing down the racing thoughts gives us the opportunity to be more present and have more clarity.
Listen, really listen
During this time when we are all facing so much, we can be easily distracted and overstimulated. Giving someone our full attention takes energy. Nodding in response, summarizing what the person said, practicing reflective listening, and waiting to give your opinion are key in truly listening to others. If you can’t listen in the moment, speak up and reschedule the conversation. Know that sometimes it’s easier to talk about chocolate for hours than to talk about life insurance for ten minutes. You know what you can give to those around you at any given time.
Everyone is going through new experiences with all that is happening in our world. We don’t know when things will end nor what things will look like next year. Learning to live with uncomfortable feelings is key in strengthening our own empathy for ourselves and others. We tend to be grumpy or irritable with change, and we are all going through a lot of change right now. Challenge yourself to think about other times when change was occurring in your life. What helped? It can be helpful to remind yourself that this is uncomfortable but not impossible.
Check in with those you love
Connection is important when things are difficult. Right now it may be tough to ask, “How are you?” Instead you can ask, “What was your favorite moment of today thus far?” or “What have you done just for you today?” Knowing someone reached out with empathy toward us gives us that feeling of being seen and recognized. Reach out, send a text, or make phone calls to those you care about. Assess what emotional energy you have available for others and offer empathy to support your own emotional wellness and that of someone you care about.
Tip: Check out this great article from the New York Times on how to be more empathic.