How Empathy Affects Our Health

How Empathy Affects Our Health

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s modern lifestyle imposes huge pressure on us and forces us to juggle various roles, different tasks, and numerous responsibilities. This constant pressure is the main culprit for our everyday stress. However, the latest research has shown that people who have more empathy are more resilient to stress and its negative influences. According to experts, people who are more able to feel empathy are less likely to pick up unconsciously negative emotions of those with whom they empathize. Researchers have revealed that stress spreads like a viral infection, expanding quickly and contagiously. To break the chain of this infection, we should develop our ability to understand challenges of other people, their unique situation and emotions. But to understand what empathy is, we should have in mind that simply feeling negative emotions of other people is not empathy. Identification with a person who suffers and her/his emotions has no purpose. In this way, we help no one. Instead of one person that suffers, we have the two feeling bad. Namely, experts point out that empathy has two components – cognitive and affective. Cognitive component means that we can comprehend the situation of the person who suffers, while affective component enables us feel love, compassion, and hope for the person who goes through adversities. To learn more about empathy and its health benefits, the article “The Benefits of Empathy” describes the link between positive emotions and our health.

How Empathy Affects Our Health

A new study published in Psychological Science has come up with results that show a direct link between health, positive emotions and positive social connections. Participants of a study by researcher Barbara Fredrickson and others were made to take part in Loving-Kindness Meditation, daily contemplative exercises where each participant focuses on generating feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill toward themselves and others.

What was observed in participants, who self-generated positive emotions through thoughts of compassion and then went out and had positive social experiences, was that they experienced an increase in vagal tone.

Vagal tone reflects the functioning of the vagus nerve, the primary component of the parasympathetic nervous system which regulates heart rate to signals of safety and interest. While a low vagal tone is linked to high inflammation, an increased vagal tone is linked to fewer colds, reduced inflammation and less cardiovascular disease.

So essentially, people who experience warm, upbeat emotions live longer and healthier lives. Just by practicing a mindset of compassion, you expose yourself to the same kind of benefits one gets out of exercise and eating healthy.

Even though empathy is not considered as manly characteristic, it is important for everyone, no matter what the gender is. Health benefits for both sexes are the same. Empathy is the essential ingredient in every relationship. It helps us resolve easier every conflict, communicate more openly, and establish a deep relationship. Empathy can also help us with various health issues like depression and anxiety. It helps us feel more calm and relaxed. Due to empathy, we can be able to accept what is – not only in our lives but also in lives of other people. We can experience more happiness and connectedness, which can bring more sense into our lives. Embracing empathy will help us feel good on various levels, which in turn will add value to our lives and gives us a strong sense of purpose.

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