08May

Compassion and Mental Health

Compassion isn’t necessarily a word we associate with mental health. It’s usually viewed as something we’re “supposed” to have for others because, if we don’t, we’d be selfish.  I know I grew up being told it’s important to be kind and compassionate and the reasons were related to religion and the idea of being “good”. Aside from the fact that showing compassion is helpful for others, there is also research that shows having compassion can be good for us-both physically and mentally.

Defining compassion can be difficult as it is often confused with empathy. So, let’s define both. Empathy is the emotional experience of another person’s emotions, like tearing up when we see a loved one cry. Compassion is defined as the emotional response to perceiving suffering and a sincere desire to help. Compassion is not only feeling sad, but also wanting to help alleviate your loved one’s pain when seeing them cry. It is sort of a combination of empathy and altruism.

It may seem like a stretch to think that concerning ourselves with the emotions of others benefits us, but research has shown being compassionate is linked to living longer, being happier, having less anxiety and simply leading a more pleasurable life. As I thought about how cultivating compassion has helped me in my own life, I was able to recognize how it can lead to a healthier state of mind. One example stood out. When I first moved to this city, the traffic was very different from the small town I had moved from. It was busier and I was experiencing more instances of getting “cut off” on the expressway. Needless to say, I was getting extremely frustrated and I began getting more aggressive and angry when driving. This anger and frustration started spilling out into other areas-I was more tense and less understanding with others. Then I realized I had to do something different while commuting. Spending the entire drive with pent up rage was not a healthy way to start my workday. So, I started trying to see the other drivers as people-just like me. Maybe they’re tired, maybe they’re having a difficult day-we’ve all been there. I stopped driving aggressively. I started actually letting people into my lane when I saw their turn signals on or it appeared they were trying to get over. These small things have genuinely changed how I feel when I drive. If compassion can help with something as small as driving, imagine what it can do when applied to more areas of life.

So, what are some ways to cultivate compassion in your life?

Volunteer: teaming up with an organization to help others in need is a great way to become more compassionate.

Loving kindness meditation: This meditation is often associated with Buddhist philosophy, but it is also utilized in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and other recovery circles. The idea is to imagine sending loving thoughts, wishes, etc to others, especially someone you don’t particularly care for or someone you’re struggling to have a positive relationship with.

Practice self compassion: Allow yourself to make mistakes and speak kindly and gently to yourself-always.

Are you wanting to cultivate more compassion in your life? Do you feel like you see the world in a negative light and it’s effecting your mental health? . A licensed mental health professional can help. Please call Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407- 443-8862 to make an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando counselors.

*If you would like more information on the research and studies mentioned, follow this link https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-compassionate-mind

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Holly Lapka