A Mile in Their Shoes: Practicing Empathy for Better Mental Health

A lot of conversations about mental health mention “self care,” these days, but caring for others is still an important part of the equation. Empathy can be a powerful tool to understanding others, as well as yourself. Since this is the month of Elimination of Discrimination Day, use empathy to not only improve your own mental health, but that of people who encounter discrimination around you, as well. By using empathy, you can make a big difference in their lives and your own.

What Is Empathy?

Psychologists describe empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It’s more than sympathy, which usually describes feeling pity for someone’s situation. Empathy means you understand people’s motivations and feelings on a deeper level than just feeling sorry for them. Empathy evolved in humans as a survival method. Through empathy, we cooperate more effectively and can live together peacefully. You can cultivate your sense of empathy by actively listening to people around you. Empathy is especially important when working to solve important issues like discrimination and conflict between people. 

Empathy Lowers Your Own Stress

Practicing empathy is an effective way to manage our own stresses. When we are empathetic to the feelings of others, it helps us reflect on our own feelings and understand why we are feeling certain ways. Psychologists call this skill an “emotion regulator,” as in you can observe the emotions, expectations, and input of others without feeling overwhelmed. When we are in control of our emotions by understanding them, we experience less stress. 

Connecting With Others Is Good For Our Health

At its core, empathy is meant for us to connect with each other. Humans are quite unique in the animal kingdom because of our ability to cooperate and achieve specific goals together. This is possible because we share a sense of empathy with each other. Connecting with others is almost as important to our health as a good diet! When we disconnect from others, we become lonely and prone to depression and anxiety. 

You may remember a time when a misunderstanding between friends caused you to drift away from them socially. Misunderstandings become more minor when the people involved in the conflict practice empathy to try to see from another person’s perspective. When we understand people’s feelings, we stay connected with them, even through hard times.