During these uncertain times, more and more of us around the world face curfews and social distancing. However, we know that too much inward focus can lead to us feeling isolated. On the other hand, studies show numerous benefits from giving social support and practicing empathy and compassion for others.
Indeed, compassion for others can reduce loneliness and stress and increase feelings of happiness and connectedness. So how can we cultivate empathy and compassion during the time of the coronavirus?
In this post, we outline 5 ways to cultivate these feelings after first looking at why empathy and compassion might be so good for us.
Why Is Compassion and Empathy for Others Beneficial?
During times of need, humans naturally seek to care for and protect others. This happens for biological and neurological reasons.
Inagaki argues that the same neural regions drawn on in maternal caregiving and providing social support to others are also used by the brain to process rewards. Moreover, they inhibit connections in the brain that trigger stress and a sense of threat. This highlights why looking after others can be so good for our mental health.
Caring for others is not just morally right, but actually plays a role in the survival of the human species. For example, when caring for a baby who requires intense support at the start of life.
Similarly, the anthropologist Margaret Mead notes that the first sign of civilization in ancient cultures is demonstrated by bones that have healed. If animals break a bone, they will die before it heals. A broken bone that is healed indicates the time has been taken by someone other than the human themselves to care for and nurture them back to good health.
Together, these factors might explain why Brown’s study found that providing care for others is actually more beneficial than receiving it. Their study showed that mortality was significantly reduced for those who provided instrumental support to their loved ones.
Receiving support had no effect on mortality. These examples, then, serve to highlight that compassion and empathy for others is not just morally right. In fact, they show that compassion is both an evolutionary mechanism of survival and a fundamental aspect of humanity.
Cultivating Empathy and Compassion during the Coronavirus Crisis
So how can you tuck into a healthy dose of compassion and empathy? Here, we outline 5 simple ways you can stay connected with others, build community spirit, and look after one another whilst socially distancing:
1. Follow guidelines & stay home
As the data show, not staying home can be the least compassionate thing you could do. Therefore, staying home is one of the main ways you can show compassion for everyone during the coronavirus crisis.
One of the most effective methods of helping stop the spread of coronavirus is social distancing. Staying at home more will help you prevent hospitals from being overrun and reduce deaths. People all over the world are practicing similar measures.
So staying at home can actually be a way to feel connected with the global community too. However, it is important to remember how to avoid emotional distancing during social distancing.
2. Community organizing – at a distance
There are so many ways to virtually communicate. WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, and other communications platforms mean we can look after people in our community in different ways. We can also do this whilst avoiding sharing the same physical space. However, if we are going to effectively care for vulnerable people in our community, it is vital to organize our efforts collectively.
Fortunately, joining a mutual-aid network can help you feel close to the community around you. Together, you will be able to more safely support the vulnerable in your community.
3. Offer to bring groceries to those socially isolating
Whilst you could do this independently of point 2, it will be better if you do them both together. Since the goal of social distancing is minimizing social contact, everyone is required to cut down shop visits.
By coordinating for multiple people at once, we can support more people in one go to get their essentials. This can keep total shop visits down to a minimum in our community whilst helping us cultivate compassion.
4. Be kind to people in vulnerable jobs
When you do have to visit the shop, be kind and grateful to those people having to work to keep things going. If there are no toilet rolls on the shelves or no canned tomatoes to pick up, this is an issue with our supply chains. This may be the fault of the business or the government, but not of those on low pay serving you.
It’s unlikely to be ‘panic buyers’ either. People may have full trolleys because they are supporting their neighbors. Alternatively, they might need to cover themselves for up to 2 weeks isolating – that demands larger baskets than normal.
If you get the last bag of flour, why not try giving it away to the person who arrives to see a bare shelf instead? That act of empathy will feed you longer than that flour ever could.
5. Support laid-off workers
Supporting the unemployed could be pointing laid-off workers in the direction of support groups. It could be helping build pressure on governments to support them with reasonable sick pay or a universal basic income.
You could continue paying for services you can’t receive if you can afford it until pressure on the government has been effective. You could make up food parcels and care packages for laid-off workers and their families. Or you can support workers taking collective action. Whether that’s to stop the spread of coronavirus due to unsafe working practices or being forced to work.
These are just 5 ways to cultivate empathy and compassion as we face the coronavirus crisis. However, you can practice it in any way you can, big or small. We can also develop empathy in unconventional ways. As the exploration of why it is beneficial shows, practicing compassion can help everyone get through these challenging times. By cultivating empathy, we can all be better off.
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