Empathy is the glue that holds humanity together. Through it, we’re able to feel concern for people we’ve never met, help address social issues that don’t affect us personally, and go out of our way to take action that creates widespread change.
Unfortunately, research by the American Psychological Association reveals that many young people self-report feeling less empathy as time goes on. If you feel the same way, here are a few steps you can take to maintain a healthy and helpful amount of empathy toward others.
Shift your mindset to compassion
When most people empathize, they imagine the pain they’d feel if they were in the other person’s situation. This response, however, can be draining. The more sustainable solution is compassion: feeling for another person’s struggles rather than imagining you share those struggles with them.
Going from empathy to compassion requires a conscious effort to reframe your reactions, but the stress you’ll save yourself from is well worth the effort.
Adjust your relationship with the news
You’ve probably heard the age-old wisdom “don’t worry about what you can’t control.” For those prone to strong feelings of empathy, the news can be a constant source of concern about issues and events that are beyond their control. While it’s great to stay informed on current events, consider being more selective with your day-to-day news intake. Try finding sources that balance negative news stories with uplifting events, or experiment with limiting your media exposure to just one or two days a week.
Breathe deeply and relax
Conscious breathing exercises can anchor you in the present moment and relieve empathy overload. For a simple technique you can do anywhere, breathe in slowly through your nostrils until your diaphragm is full, hold the breath for a moment, then release the breath at the same rate you inhaled. Repeat this process a few times until you feel refreshed.
Although it can be tiresome, feeling empathy for others isn’t a bad habit you need to break. Instead, cultivating a greater awareness of your relationship with empathy will lessen the struggle that caring for others can cause. If you’re frequently feeling overwhelmed despite your best efforts, Valley Oaks Health offers counseling services that can help.