News and blog: Empathy enables us to better handle stress

nursing-stress-jpgEmpathy enables us to better handle stress. A study by the University of British Columbia found that medical students who underwent empathy training were more compassionate towards their patients and were less stressed in emotionally intense encounters. Students who didn’t receive empathy training experienced what researchers call “second-hand stress;” they picked up others’ stress without understanding why.

CarolynMy thoughts:  Empathy training comes under a lot of resistance. Those attending, or being asked to attend, often feel things like…’I am already empathic thank you!’ ….’Emotions? Who wants to think about them, we have targets to meet’….’I get stressed enough dealing with others emotions, without knowing more’

However, empathy training, done well, is not about telling people they are not empathic already and need to learn. Or that they should only focus on emotions. Or that they need to take on others feelings. Rather empathy training that I facilitate, and many great trainers out there, focus on optimising already present empathic attributes. For example, many of us already know how to ride a bike and will never forget, but it img_5619_thumbtakes understanding and re-learning to get the most out of a 21 speed bike, rather than a 3 gear shopper, should you wish to master difficult climbs more easily and improve fitness…a topic covered in my previous blog – My 3 links between cycling and developing empathy 

Empathy must come hand in hand with emotional awareness.  Understanding our emotions and those of others is a key communication skill. It is a key to creating an optimum environment for ourselves and others to develop and negotiate keyour way through life. It is simply a key to help unlock sometimes emotional and thought processes that lock us in sometimes, but that find a way to be expressed nevertheless, but sometimes in a more destructive and damaging way.

Finally, what is interesting with the research mentioned above is that…’Students who didn’t receive empathy training experienced what researchers call “second-hand stress;” they picked up others’ stress people laughinwithout understanding why.‘ The thing to remember is that, as Daniel Golemen puts it….’emotions are contagious…we all have experienced it experimentally…you know, when we have been out with friends images (1)and we feel good, or when we have been served by a miserable assistant and we walk away feeling bad’. So we pick up on emotions and stresses, all day, every day. We collect them, absorb them and they influence us and how we feel. There is no escaping it. Communication is a felt process. Other people affect us and we affect them.

Empathy training, workshops, awareness or whatever you wish to call it, works on the basis of this happening and therefore having understanding of how to support others, download (3)and ourselves, gives us the insight to see more clearly, understanding to operate at our optimum self to reach our potential and help others reach theirs. Catching and absorbing others emotions and not understanding them, and not understanding ours….that is the cause of the stress. Measured empathy, where we use it as a skill and human attribute, along with many other skills and attributes at our disposal as human beings, is a powerful thing indeed to have in our corner.

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