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Week three: Empathy
Empathy, or being able to understand at an emotional level what someone else is going through, is part of what makes us human. It also provides several important benefits. According to psychologists, empathy makes it easier to build social connections because by understanding what someone else is feeling, you can respond more appropriately.
Practicing empathy better equips you to manage your emotions, which can help you from feeling overwhelmed. When you show empathy for others, you’re more likely to help them and positively influence a stressful situation for the better.
Empathy takes practice! And effort! But through small daily steps you can strengthen this skill and experience immediate positive impact.
Be fully present
When you give the gift of your attention, you are valuing the other person and this is high currency. Get rid of any distractions, take some deep breaths and bring yourself to the present moment. Making time to connect with your fellow students (ideally in person but if this is not an option, then virtually) can make all the difference. Listen actively to what others are saying rather than mentally rehearsing your response. Know that you will have to work harder to do this online.
If emails and instant messaging have replaced in-person conversations, pay more attention to your tone to avoid unintentionally confusing or stressing the person on the receiving end of your message. Your language is also important, so you may want to watch for statements that come across as judging or criticizing rather than acknowledging and moving the conversation forward.
As you’re able to tune in to the feelings of others, you will find it easier to practice simple acts of kindness. Just taking a few minutes for everyone to say hello on a call before diving into the agenda helps to lighten the mood, which sets us up for a more productive virtual meeting. Giving a few words of encouragement – such as letting someone know they’re doing a great job – can also make a significant impact. Being kind not only benefits the recipient; science has shown that practicing kindness lowers stress levels and blood pressure while increasing energy.
Practise acceptance and encourage others to do so also
Acceptance is not passive – it’s the ability to move yourself to a place where you genuinely accept the circumstances for that day. To do this you first need to acknowledge how you are feeling OR let the person you are speaking with do so. Being able to identify and name these feelings releases neurotransmitters in the brain that quiets the body’s “fight-or-flight” response, which typically springs into action during times of stress. Once the body is no longer on high alert, we can tune in to other people’s experiences.
Tending to our own needs expands our ability to care for others and we need to do this more in times of stress and uncertainty. Now, this doesn’t mean we should overly indulge and drink our troubles away but it’s scientifically proven that spending time outdoors, listening to music, or practicing mindfulness can calm and nourish the soul.
The good news: we don’t need to block off hours each day for self-care. As with any new goal, starting small can make a difference. To begin, consider taking ten minutes to step away from stimulation, like social media, and replace scrolling through Instagram with a soothing activity. Not only will doing so improve your mental health, it will also benefit the well-being of those around you.
Start practising mindfulness
If you are not doing so already, make time each day for silence, breathing, bringing yourself back to the present moment. Not only is mindfulness connected with strengthening the brain’s natural empathy neurons, by doing so you will be responding from a place of calm. This is especially important when it comes to not overwhelming yourself with the stresses of others.
True empathy is about allowing and acknowledging where other people are at but also building your own self-awareness and capacity to respond from a stronger place.
These emotional exercises will help build an empathy muscle that grows stronger each week.
Week 1: ADAPTABILITY
Discover how you can strengthen your ability to adapt in the face of constant change.
Week 2: CRITICAL THINKING
How harnessing true critical thinking skills helps us to handle ever changing information, become more reflective and get so much better at making decisions.