Empathy is the ability to “put yourself in the shoes” of other people and deeply connect with their experiences. The effects of feeling empathically “seen” can be profoundly transformative.
It’s like a superpower, but instead of shooting lasers out of your eyes, you shoot understanding and kindness out of your tummy like a care bear. It makes everyone feel more open, cooperative, and willing to evolve their point of view.
It is crucial to humanity, and those adept at empathic connection are absolutely invaluable.
Empathy may be like a superpower, but it can also be a total pain in the ass.
Empaths can feel like emotional garbage disposals, taking on all the negativity and problems of others. They feel the emotions of others so strongly that they sometimes forget to take care of their own feelings.
To counteract this, it is best that they periodically reground themselves when they are connecting with others. In other words, they should fall deep into the connection, and completely bungee back into a more detached state over the course of their dialogues.
This can be tricky, but there are simple mindfulness-based techniques that make it a helluva lot easier.
Here's the "survival kit" of mindfulness techniques for empaths:
1. Mindful Yawning
It may seem far-fetched, but yawning is among the most beneficial things you can do for your brain.
Yawning can almost instantly bring you into a state of boosted social intelligence and simultaneously help you feel more grounded.
It also decreases stress, increases your concentration and enhances your consciousness. It lowers the hyper-activity in frontal lobe functioning and turns down useless “mental chatter.” It helps you stay present.
For more information on practicing mindful yawning, check out our post “Yawning is the Ultimate Stress and Focus Hack.”
Sometimes yawning can send the social signal that you are either bored or tired. So, unless you explain why you are yawning, discretion is advised. If you know you are about to enter a stressful dialog with someone, consider yawning privately beforehand. Yawning creates neural empathy and that’s why it’s contagious.
2. Super-slow Stretching
Slow stretching allows time for your brain to send a relaxation signal to relieve tension manifesting in the body.
Take a full 60 seconds just lifting your shoulders to your ears so that the brain can notice the subtle tension and send a relaxation signal to the muscles. Try repeating this with other parts of your body.
If you stretch the way most normally do, you won’t even notice how tense your muscles are. With yawning and super slow stretching you can enter a state of very deep relaxation in a minute or less.
3. Sensory Awareness Through Touch
Self-touch is a proven technique to heighten your sensory awareness and enhance your brain functioning.
In a multi-university study, sensory awareness techniques were shown to increase one’s sense groundedness and self-control. It helps you stay connected to yourself and retain a sense of yourself. It reduces the intensity of both physical and psychological pain. It brings you into the present moment where you do your best thinking and problem solving.
This practice, along with yawning and super-slow stretching stimulates emotional “caring” circuits in your brain. This self-nurturing increases empathy, self-compassion, and even boosts your immune system.
4. "Chunking" Your Conversation
Regular chit-chat causes anxiety and stress, but mindful conversations can spark the opposite.
People tend to speak many more words than are necessary to communicate their ideas.
But let’s be real, nobody has the attention span for all those extra words.
Our brains can only handle 4-6 pieces of information at a time, so the more words you use, the less likely the person listening will actually understand you. And, let’s face it, not feeling understood is lonely, stressful, and just plain sucks.
So when you have something important to communicate, slow down, be brief, and try to convey your message in 10 words or less.
If you’re feeling comfortable and/or bold, you can ask other people to join you in limiting their words and make it a cute game.
When you speak mindfully you’ll be pulled into in the present. It’s impossible to experience anxiety or depression when speaking this way.
Here’s a fail-proof formula for staying grounded while exercising empathy:
1. Immerse yourself in the other people’s feelings for a minute or two.
2. Reground yourself by coming back into the present moment. Mindfully yawn and stretch. Feel your own body. Anchor yourself in your deepest values.
3. Reconnect with the other person (client, employee, family member), bringing your groundedness and peacefulness into the conversation.
Viola! If you do this, you won’t feel exhausted or burned out after empathizing with another person.
Another day of feeling like a complete failure because you can’t manage to get out of bed. It’s a fun
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