January 20, 2021

Compassion: The Hidden Gem of Human Capacity

Compassion has the potential to drastically increase our quality of life while bettering the lives of those around us. This is the type of contagious that is good, which is seemingly so foreign as the year 2020 came to a close. 

What exactly is compassion? Compassion is the recognition of suffering and the desire to alleviate it. At the root of all compassion is empathy and good will. By developing self-awareness through practices like meditation, we strengthen our ability to empathize with others. By developing more positive thought patterns through practices like loving-kindness meditations, we increase our ability to wish the best for others. In this way, we can build our compassion.

Compassion is particularly important during tough times. As COVID-19 in America worsens, the loneliness epidemic in America multiplies. As many as 25% of Americans report having no one to share their problems with. This lack of social connectedness is linked with greater vulnerability to death and disease. This is because social interactions are dependent on compassion, which requires three components to thrive: compassion with oneself, with others, and the ability to accept the compassion shared by others. When these three components are met, the health of a human flourishes. Countless studies have proven a link between a decrease in depression, anxiety, and stress as individuals increase their compassion practices.

The nervous system has a great deal to do with this. Split into two sections, parasympathetic and sympathetic, the nervous system has great influence over feelings and emotions. The parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest) is responsible for calming you down, and is proven to activate as we practice  compassion. Here, the brain is at its fittest state: calm, relaxed, and ready to operate. Conversely, when compassion practices and mindsets are decreased, the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system is ticked, raising blood pressure and heart rate, releasing stress hormones and inflammatory proteins into the bloodstream. Engaging in acts of compassion helps the body foster a healthy balance between the two nervous systems, only activating the sympathetic nervous system when physically necessary, as opposed to when the brain tricks itself into panic due to threatening thoughts, such as “I am not good enough.”

There is a plethora of significant and shocking statistics that the science of compassion offers, but what is the worth of a science experiment’s results without the designated instructions? Here are a few things you can do to be your most compassionate self:

  • Have a morning ritual preparing yourself for a day of compassionate work.
  • Practice empathy at any chance you get (meetings, conferences, one-on-ones, with the barista at the coffee shop, etc.)
  • Reflect on common humanity: you have more in common with every person than you think. Finding similarities helps you understand and accept your colleagues.
  • Be open! Allow others in, and they will do the same to you, a psychological concept called the norm of reciprocity.
  • Take time to nonjudgmentally review your day and act compassionate with yourself. Treat yourself like a friend, from your language to your tone. Comfort yourself- self-touch can release oxytocin, the “love hormone.”
  • Practice compassion meditation. There are countless compassion meditations on apps such as Insight Timer and Headspace.