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 causes people to become more open, cooperative, and willing to evolve their point of view. It's almost like a superpower. Indeed, it is crucial to humanity. For these reasons, those adept at empathic connection are absolutely invaluable.
However, many empaths struggle to manage their talents for interpersonal connection in a healthy way. They often overly empathize with others and lose their sense of self in the process.
After empaths immerse themselves into other people's feelings and issues, they may feel they are left carrying others' emotional burdens as their own. 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 may seem like a difficult challenge, but there are simple mindfulness-based hacks that make it easy.
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.
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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
Normal conversation 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. However, our brains can only "chunk" together 4-6 pieces of information at a time. Thus, the more words you use, the worse the odds are that the person hearing you will hone in on what's important. Misunderstandings are stressful. So when you have something important to communicate, slow down, be brief, and try to convey your message in 10 words or less. You can make this a game and ask other people to join you in limiting their words. When you speak mindfully you'll be pulled into in the present. It's impossible to experience anxiety or depression when speaking this way.
For more information, check out our blog post: "Chunking": The Real Secret to Effective Communication.
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.
The above post was lovingly crafted by Josiah Hultgren. Josiah Hultgren is Founder/CEO of MindFullyAlive, a Senior Lecturer at California Lutheran University, a NeuroCoach, and a practical neuroscience expert. He produces and curates mindfulness content designed to improve structure and functioning of the brain. His mission is to help create a more vibrant world and apply neuroscience in ways that help people reach their highest potential.The content was derived from the Neuro Coach Pro Certification Program training created by Mark Robert Waldman.