My godfather was the funniest man in the room. No matter the occasion, no matter the topic, he would have us all in stitches – the kind of laughter that had tears running down your face. He possessed a genuine x-factor about him, a quick wit and a cheeky smile that was automatically infectious. “You’ll never guess what happened the other day”, is all he had to say and we would all begin giggling. No matter where he went, he was loved, no matter what room he walked into, smiles welcomed him. I always saw him as the most jolly guy ever. Except, I was wrong. Behind his bubbly exterior, he was struggling with demons inside of his head, and worst of all, we didn’t know. One day, all of a sudden and out of the blue, my godfather took his own life.
Mental health concerns are more prevalent today than ever before, and the pandemic can be blamed for accentuating prior conditions. Not only do people feel alone, but they also carry the shame of thinking they cannot, and perhaps should not, share their problems. When faced with loneliness, especially with the constraints of the lockdown, various therapists have suggested some small ways that we can all take steps to finding a better place.
Kathleen Smith, an author and licensed counsellor, often advises her clients to go back to their family and consider how their immediate and extended families are a resource to them. “When people start writing letters to a grandparent or setting up a weekly phone call with a sibling, it can have a huge impact on their overall mood.”
Sherry Amatenstein, the author of ‘How Does That Make You Feel’, encourages us to learn how to enjoy our own company. “Some good ways to start: meditation class, take yourself to a movie, reading, watch TED Talks or other things that will make you think, start a gratitude journal. Focusing on things to be grateful for rather than wishing for what you presently don’t have is a great lesson in appreciation. Also, do something freeing: dance naked, eat messy food in bed, O.D. on junk TV.”
Juli Fraga, a clinical psychologist, recommends pet therapy. “Spending time with a pet can help combat feelings of loneliness by giving us an oxytocin boost. Volunteering at a local pet shelter may also be helpful.”
From an outsider’s perspective, it is virtually impossible to offer a one-size-fits-all piece of advice on how to alleviate someone else’s loneliness, as everyone responds to issues in different ways. However, it is universally easy to ask, “How are you?”. Within our community or amongst our nearest and dearest, it takes minimal effort to touch base. Perhaps this is all it takes to give someone the outlet they need to reach out for help, or offload the concerns that are on their mind. Eliminating judgment in a response to others’ struggles, and offering to listen, are powerful tools, and the gift of time is invaluable.
I wish I’d known more of my godfather’s troubles. Not knowing there was a problem is saddening, but not as painful as wondering if we could have helped. With every moment I laughed at his jokes, I never anticipated that there was a deeper issue behind the smile, and I never thought to ask, “How are you?”.
If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs help, please seek professional help or give the Befrienders a call. You are not alone.
I wish I woke up to the sound of birds chirping and a warm embrace from the sun’s morning rays, but instead I get greeted by anxiety – the complete opposite of that fairytale feeling. Even before seeing my schedule, I already feel overwhelmed by the day ahead, and it makes me want to hit the snooze button for the next few hours (or days). Do you wake up with a head full of racing thoughts too?
Morning anxiety is a common occurrence, even for those who don’t have an anxiety disorder. It refers to the anticipatory anxiety that occurs at the beginning of the day. Stress and worry about work, and other pressures such as socialising, start flooding in and you may even sleep in to avoid the day’s responsibilities as much as you can. If you were already anxious the night before, cortisol (the stress hormone) is usually at its highest in the first hour of waking up – which is why you feel even more stressed than you previously were.
Try minimising your morning anxiety with these self-care methods:
- Breathe – Practice deep breathing exercises to alleviate your anxiety. Inhale and exhale slowly while keeping your shoulders and jaw relaxed.
- Journal – Identify your feelings by writing them down, and then address these anxious thoughts. Create a positive mantra to help counter these negative statements.
- Move! – Exercise reduces your stress hormone levels, and since cortisol is as at its highest upon waking up, moving your body within the first hour of the day can provide stress relief.
- Avoid caffeine – Caffeine can make your anxiety worse, but if you just can’t give up your morning cup of coffee, reduce your intake, especially when you’re not feeling well.
- Plan out your day – If you’re anxious because of an overly demanding schedule, planning out your day can help you start on a productive note. Seeing and organising your tasks on paper can also make it feel less overwhelming.
Please consult a mental health professional if your morning anxiety gets worse and starts affecting your daily life. Don’t be afraid to – they will be able to treat your anxiety disorder and help you feel better.
When you’re depressed, you feel depleted – you don’t have the energy or motivation to do anything, let alone clean up your room. Along with this, another sign of depression is the inability to focus, which makes it hard for you to keep up with your day-to-day chores. When cleaning becomes less of a priority, a mess begins to accumulate, and the bigger it gets, the more stress and negative emotions it brings with it.
If you’ve been feeling down, here are six things you can try to start cleaning up again:
- Start with 5 minutes
Find an area to focus on and set a timer – this could be a pile of clothes on the floor, a cluttered coffee table or a kitchen counter than needs a good scrub. Do as much as you can, and once the five minutes is up, take a break. You can do this again in a few minutes, hours or even the next day.
- Clean everyday
You don’t have to clean the entire house or even a whole room – just do a little bit of cleaning everyday to get into the habit and avoid messes from building up. If you need some motivation, create a checklist, which will also help you stay organised. Slowly work your way through it during the week.
- Do the small things first
It’s normal to procrastinate when you have a big, daunting task to do, such as cleaning an entire room or house. Instead, break these tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks – for example, changing your bed sheets and organising your desk as a start to cleaning your room.
- Colour code it
If you don’t know where to start, a fun way can be to pick a colour and look for things in that colour that need to be put away, thrown away or cleaned. Take a break between each colour.
- Clean as you go
Even when you’re not feeling down, this takes discipline, but it is self-care! It protects your future self from having to struggle with cleaning an even bigger mess. Get into the habit of putting away, throwing away and washing things after using them.
- Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask your family members, roommates or partners for help when it comes to housework. Do let them know why you’re struggling with it. If you’re able to, hire someone to help clean up or talk to a therapist about your problems with staying on task.
The hardest part is starting, so be proud of yourself for doing as much as you can – even if it may seem small at first. Try your best to get things in order because when you’re depressed, a messy home can cause further stress and anxiety. Don’t forget to cut yourself some slack in the process!
Your self-care routine may currently look like curling up on the couch, after a long day of work, with a soothing scented candle on the side, a hearty cup of tea in one hand and a hilarious self-help book in the other. It could also involve a checklist of good habits you’re trying to incorporate into your daily routine, like not checking your phone right after you wake up or focusing on the rich flavours of the food you’re eating. What we tend to overlook when it comes to wellness is financial self-care – although we are well-aware of the stress and anxiety that stems from our finances.
Wellness focuses on our overall health and wellbeing, and that definitely includes our financial health. Having a financial self-care routine will not only benefit our finances, but it will also contribute to our happiness and overall wellbeing. After all, real self-care helps us reframe the situations we’re in to get to the root of our problems. It goes beyond feeling comfortable and digs deeper into healing in order to feel better afterwards.
It can be intimidating, and even embarrassing to confront our own finances, but by adding these good money habits to your self-care routines and checklists, you’ll be able to develop a better understanding of your finances and a healthier money mindset:
- Confront your feelings about money
Write down the first few things that come to mind when you think about your finances. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do – it could come from a childhood experience, having student loan debt or recently seeing others lose their jobs. These fears can prevent us from taking control of our finances, so once you’re able to understand your limiting beliefs – you’ll know how to move forward and start organizing your finances.
- Check your bank accounts
Make it a habit to check your bank accounts often. Not being aware of where your money goes can cause a lot of frustration. By physically seeing your bank balance, and keeping track of your transactions, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions when it comes to spending. This habit will also allow you to catch any unusual transactions or unauthorized purchases before it’s too late.
- Set and review your financial goals
We all have financial goals. What do you aim to do with your money? You could want to repair one of your devices, pay off credit card debt, or save for a car. Note down these goals and break them into smaller steps that can be achieved daily or weekly – i.e. saving RM50 a week for 6 months. By constantly reviewing your progress, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re on the right track and be aware of any obstacles that could set you back.
- Practice mindful spending
Set boundaries when it comes to your money. With shopping being just an app away, it’s become much easier to spend money – ‘retail therapy’ now consists of browsing when we’re sad or happy. Either delete the apps or add the items to your wishlist (instead of your cart) and sleep on it. As with any impulse, see if you still want it badly the next day or in the following days.
- Reward yourself
We’re not saying you shouldn’t spend any money at all, you should always treat yourself – responsibly that is. Reward yourself for reaching your financial goals, but make sure you’ve made space in your budget for treats. This can motivate you to save more. Remember, wellness is all about balance – don’t feel bad about tending to your differing needs.
- Educate yourself
Unfortunately, since we didn’t learn financial literacy in school, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves. Most of us are actually clueless about money, not even receiving honest advice from our parents because it is a taboo topic. Make the effort to read, join free courses, and listen to podcasts – no, not to ‘get rich’, but to get a better understanding of how to manage your finances.
The longer we ignore our limiting money mindset and beliefs, the harder it’ll be for us to become financially stable, secure or free. You can avoid further stress and anxiety by finally stepping up and taking control of your finances.
As I sat down to write this article, I already made my first mistake – I had my phone in plain sight. Instead of diving right into work, it was like a reflex to reach for my phone and get sucked into social media. I began mindlessly scrolling through Twitter and Instagram, TikTok for good measure, and the latest digital distraction – Clubhouse. It was only after getting a glimpse of the time (which we don’t seem to see even though it doesn’t leave our screens), and realising that I was officially off-schedule, when I quickly ran to my room and put away my phone. Now here I am writing with no digital distractions.
Like many other Malaysians, having to spend most of my time at home has made me more dependent on my phone. It did not come as a surprise to me that compared to other South East Asian countries, Malaysia had the highest upsurge in Internet usage due to our strict social distancing measures. Our phones placed the entertainment and connections that were separated from us, right at our finger tips. It doesn’t help that some of us have had to work unsupervised from home – turning off auto-relax mode was already hard to begin with.
Here are 6 tips that have helped me tune into what I’m doing without any digital distractions:
- Put your phone away!
No, not next to you with the screen faced down (unless you’re that disciplined then #goals), but in another room. Hopefully when it’s out of your sight, the urge to check it will leave your mind too. If your excuse is, “What if I get an important message?” – use a desktop version of the messenger-app, but keep it running in the background.
2. Schedule time to use your devices
It’s time to take back control and let your devices know when they can have your attention. Start with short, frequent breaks, like 5 to 10 minutes after every hour, and work your way up from there. You’ll soon be able to break the habit.
3. Replace your screen time with other tasks
Before reaching for your devices, ask yourself, “Why?”. It could be to do research, reply a message, or simply just take a break. But if you want to use it just for the sake of using it, ask yourself, “What else can I do during this time?”. Turn to your to-do list – you’ll find that you actually do have the time to wash the dishes, fold your laundry, workout and read.
4. Turn off notifications
If it’s something you don’t need to know right now (like who liked your picture), you don’t need to see it right now. We’re constantly distracted by pings and pop-ups, but most of these are unimportant information and interactions.
5. Delete apps you don’t use
Sometimes, when we’re bored, or basically just looking for a distraction, we start opening apps that we don’t use (there’s no need to check in on Snapchat, that ghost is doing fine). Delete, declutter, go Marie Kondo and let go of all the apps that no longer spark joy.
6. Journal when you wake up
Here’s a bonus tip that’ll help with your mental health too! When you wake up, grab your journal instead of your phone. Start scribbling down the first things that come to mind, or if you need prompts – “How do you feel about today?”, “Set an intention for the day”, “What are you grateful for?”. This sets us up for a more positive and productive day rather than losing ourselves, and a lot of time, scrolling through our devices in bed.
Digital distractions will never go away (they may even get worse), but by following these tips – we hope you’ll feel less overwhelmed and more focused on important and meaningful tasks!
Growing up, most of us were taught to work hard and respect others. ‘Tiger’ parenting and ‘kiasu’ culture pushed some of us into the direction of high-ranking universities and reputable companies, with no regard for our mental health. As millennials, the relentless pressure to succeed continued in adulthood with the rise of hustle culture on social media (being busy is now considered ‘glamorous’).
We’ve spent almost our entire lives listening to others, and comparing ourselves to others, when we should actually be prioritising ourselves. Boundaries can help us do this – they protect our health and wellbeing, and provide us with a sense of self. It’s not going to be easy, and you will feel guilty at first, but here’s why we must allocate time and space for ourselves:
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are the rules we create to protect our needs. They can be applied within our relationships, career, and even online to communicate our limits and ensure our safety.
Why do we need boundaries?
- To develop our identity and a sense of agency over our bodies and feelings.
- To be able to practice self-care and improve our self-esteem.
- To communicate our needs in a relationship and have positive interactions.
- To avoid burning out and protect our finances.
How can we set boundaries?
- Identify your limits
What makes you feel uncomfortable? Check in with your body as well – what makes you tense up?
- Be assertive
When it comes to communicating your limits, be direct, but avoid being aggressive. Use ‘I’ statements, such as, “I feel overwhelmed when the house is a mess because I already spend so much time cleaning it. What I need is help to keep it clean”. This allows you to express your feelings without blaming anyone.
- Give yourself permission to say no
It can be hard to say “no”, especially in Malaysia where there is a face-saving culture. Let go of the fear of looking selfish or coming off as rude – you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
- Develop a support system
Boundaries take determination. If you’re having a hard time with them, turn to your family and friends for support – you can practice asserting boundaries together and hold each other accountable.
When we’re able to define our boundaries, we’re able to have more respect for ourselves. Boundaries can protect us from physical and emotional intrusion, and empower us to make healthy choices and take responsibility for ourselves. Setting boundaries is a process, but don’t let fear and guilt prevent you from taking care of yourself!
Finally, self-love and self-care have started to be normalised as everyone becomes more aware of their significance during these difficult times. They helps us healthily manoeuvre through life – taking care of our mind, body, and soul. But what exactly is self-love? It’s loving ourselves by genuinely appreciating our strengths; accepting our weaknesses; and showing ourselves kindness and compassion, unconditionally.
Human beings are complex social animals – there is no average human, we are all different in our own ways. However, due to sociocultural pressures and expectations of the ‘ideal’ individual, we often succumb to the anxieties of idealism instead of acceptance.
Self-love is accepting all parts of yourself – especially the darkest parts, which is your shadow side. It is knowing when to walk away, setting boundaries, honouring your worth, allowing room for mistakes and working your way towards being the best version of yourself (not someone else). It is remembering that you are, indeed, human – not a robot.
But fully accepting who you are does not equate to enabling your problematic behaviours.
You may have had a tough week and want to take some time to relax – which is fine, go ahead and do it! However, it does not mean that you should stray away from reality for too long and ignore all your responsibilities. Abandoning your workstation to binge watch movies for days on end (while being well aware that you have deadlines to meet) because you feel stressed is not what self-love is – it’s actually the opposite!
Protecting ourselves from the stressors of harsh realities may seem like the easiest way to deal with things because it makes us feel safe and comfortable. In turn, we get used to this and call it self-love – when it is actually a form of ego-love.
Choosing the path of achieving instant satisfaction and indulging in denial may seem like the next best thing we know for ourselves. Yet, this path does not help us grow into the person we want for ourselves. In hindsight, you’ll start to realise that this just might be the cause of your own suffering and lead to self-deprecating thoughts; feelings of inadequacy; expectations of perfection; and the root of your lack of self-love.
Taking accountability for our actions may seem difficult, but it is essential for taking the first step in fully accepting ourselves for who we are. Understanding the difference between self-love and ego love is vital to build the life we want to live in. When we love ourselves, we want what’s best for ourselves, and we do things that make us happy (even if it’s not immediate).
We know self-love isn’t as simple as it seems – we all struggle to give ourselves the love, compassion, and kindness we give others on the daily due to a myriad of factors and past experiences. But despite the complexities of it, self-awareness is key to shifting our mindsets in accepting the self as it is – whilst working towards being a better version of ourselves than we were yesterday <3
Now that we’re stuck at home, you may find yourself glued to your phone more (if that’s even possible). My New Year’s resolution was to decrease my screen time, but that went out the door the second we had to close ours for yet another lockdown. From devastating floods, to unfair anti-LGBTQ+ punishments, and a terrifying rise in gender-based violence – the bad news doesn’t seem to end. And we can’t stop checking for it.
To be fair, we are still in a state of emergency, so it’s important to stay informed, but it goes from helpful to unhealthy when we start obsessively scrolling through social media. The bad news begins to take a toll on our mental health, bringing more anxious feelings and negative emotions with it. As our anxiety goes up, and our mood goes down, we can’t help but to feel hopeless all over again. Here’s why you should start limiting your daily news consumption.
What is doomscrolling?
Doomscrolling is used to describe our tendency to continue scrolling through bad news, regardless of how saddening, disheartening, or depressing it is. Surprisingly, it’s not a new term, but after the year we’ve had – we get why it’s become a buzzword.
Why do we do it?
Not being allowed to leave the house has left us with a lot of free time our hands (sometimes too much). Without our regular activities and entertainment, negative news has taken over our conversations, and even caused FOMO as we see others speak up about social issues. Other than seeing it as a way to connect with others, it also gives us a sense of control – something we desperately need during a time of uncertainty and uncontrollability. Staying up to date has also made us feel productive, as well as prepared for future dangers and threats. It doesn’t help that most of us are addicted to using our phones either, which makes our social media habits even unhealthier.
How do we stop?
What will make you put down your phone – deleting apps, turning off notifications? If you still don’t trust yourself, set screen time limits to stop you from spending too much time scrolling. Use your newly freed-up time to do activities that you need, or want, to do as an enjoyable, and actually productive, distraction. After reading the news, don’t forget to allow your self to rest and release any tension.
Find out how to develop a healthier relationship with social media here, or how to cope with compassion fatigue here.
When we think of art therapy, we think of creating art – our emotions expressed through harsh brush strokes, the feeling of clay between our stressed palms, being soothed by colouring within the lines. But did you know that simply just viewing art can help us explore our emotions, cope with stress and develop self-awareness? Those who claim not to have a creative bone in their body can now breathe a sigh of relief.
Although art therapy doesn’t require you to be artistic or talented, it is still assuring to know that just the presence of art can contribute to better mental health. Looking at art has been proven to reduce stress levels, and has the brain releasing dopamine – providing the same feeling as falling in love. And like being in the outdoors, exploring an art gallery also helps with relieving mental exhaustion and restoring focus!
As cases continue to rise, we encourage you all to stay at home, but you can easily hop on an online tour with The Art Seni – a virtual experience that allows you to enjoy art, with the artists themselves, without having to leave the house. We asked founder, Aza Iza, how to pick up this hobby.
- When did you become interested in art?
I was exposed to art at a very young age, but didn’t really think it’d be something I’d explore further. I just enjoyed it, that’s it. It was not until after high school where I started doing regular searches of ongoing art exhibitions/ art events for me to explore over the weekend or when I was free. At that time, I felt the need to always explore art. I always made sure I had something art-related to do over the weekend. It sort of became part of my routine!
- We love what you do with The Art Seni! What pushed you to start it?
The Art Seni started when I realised how difficult it was for me to gather information about art in Malaysia. I started getting frustrated with how sometimes I missed art exhibitions just because I had no information about it at all. The only source of art information at that time was the newspapers, magazines and some websites. All of the art information was so scattered. So, if I missed it, I missed it.
- As someone who is making art more accessible in Malaysia, what are the most common misconceptions you have come across?
It is an ongoing misconception all around the world that people think art is for the elite. However, in Malaysia where it is not as accessible, people find it even more intimidating to approach. Another common misconception is that many people think that art is only for art people, and that if they’re not part of it, they cannot explore it.
- Studies have shown that viewing art can have a positive impact on your health and wellbeing – do you find that to be true? How has it helped you personally?
Yes! Art does contribute to one’s health and wellbeing in so many different ways. For me, I think it definitely helped me cope with whatever I was going through throughout the years without me realising. I often find myself turning to art when there’s too much going on or when I just needed to recenter. Art is like my little hideout!
- How can one start exploring art – what do they need to know about the current scene here in Malaysia?
The visual art scene here in Malaysia is growing and has so much to offer. One can start by selecting a few galleries to visit from our weekly “On This Week” postings. People often find it difficult to navigate themselves through art galleries in KL and most of the time, are too intimidated to explore on their own. Alternatively, if they wish to explore art with a friend, they can join one of our art tours!
Something we always tell people since day one is that you don’t need to know art to explore art because it is not only for “art people”. Art is for everyone! Follow us on our social media platforms to stay art-to-date, or to simply start exploring art. We invite just about anyone of all ages and backgrounds to join us explore art!
2020 made us all more resilient. If you’re reading this, always remember – you were able to persevere through a global pandemic. You were able to push through despite a world health crisis, and the seemingly never-ending setbacks and obstacles it threw your way. Be very proud of yourself.
We now enter 2021 with a better understanding of how to navigate through uncertainty, and a full understanding that it will entail a lot of stress and fast changes. But how do we maintain our resilience? Before moving forward, take a step back to look at your mental health – be honest with yourself and attend to your needs. Like any physical activity, in order to power through, you need to be fit.
What is mental fitness?
As our mind is a muscle, it needs to be trained and strengthened. Mental fitness involves exercises that develop our mental and emotional abilities – the more we exercise our minds, the stronger it gets. No, these activities aren’t done to increase your IQ. Mentally, they help us become healthier and fitter with skills that allow us to focus better, be more optimistic and connect well with others.
What are the benefits?
Mental fitness has physical benefits too – by being able to slow down, especially at night, our bodies will be able to rest properly. Having a calm mind will also help us become less reactive to stress and solve problems in a more relaxed manner. When it comes to concentration, mental fitness builds cognitive strength, which allows us to ignore distracting thoughts. Socially, it benefits us with the ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships as we become less judgemental and more understanding.
How do we practice mental fitness?
- Meditating – Meditating isn’t the only mental exercise, but it does help us focus and tune out distractions. By working on our cognitive strength, we’ll be able to improve our attention, thinking and memory.
- Being present – Pay more attention to your senses daily – what do you see, hear, feel, smell and taste? When we practice being present, we’ll be able to apply it to moments of stress and worry, preventing us from overthinking and becoming more anxious.
- Letting go of control – We can only change ourselves, not others. Accept the fact that you can’t control everything and you’ll find yourself happier and grateful without the disappointment that comes with unmet expectations.
- Exploring – Open yourself up to new things, perspectives and ideas to get a better understanding of how other people feel. Breaking out of your routine can also help keep your brain healthy and active.
- Socialising – As a social species, engaging and interacting with others is beneficial to our mental health. Reach out to your family and friends, join an online community, care for others and you’ll care for yourself more.
When it comes to training, whether physical or mental, consistency is key. It won’t always be easy, but by adding these small actions to our daily routines, we’ll be able to achieve our goals of having a stronger mind. Be patient, be kind, and remember that improving your mental fitness will take time.
Jade Goh of The Mind Faculty shares her expert advice.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that things don’t go according to plan. The uncertainty has caused us more stress and anxiety, which has made it hard to feel hopeful for the new year. Although it seems like nothing is going to change anytime soon, we can still look forward to having a fresh start in January by practicing gratitude.
Gratitude can help plant the seeds for hope in 2021. Start by making a list of things you are grateful for this past year. Did you get to spend more time with your family, learn a new skill or have more time to relax? Think of what you can bring into the new year. By taking the time to focus on the good things that have happened, you’ll find yourself feeling more optimistic about the upcoming year!
However, it can still be hard to muster up the motivation to make New Year’s resolutions. There are two parts to feeling motivated. Firstly, you need to have something that you want to achieve, and for the second part, you need to know that there is a way to achieve this.
We may feel unmotivated to make resolutions, such as lose a certain amount of weight if we feel that our plans have been derailed by gym closures. When dealing with uncertainty and stress, we need to distinguish between what we can and can’t control.
We only have control over our actions. Instead of focusing on the destination, make resolutions about the journey. For example, instead of “I want to lose 5 kgs before February”, say “I want to move my body 20 minutes a day”. Moving your body could be walking up and down the stairs at your apartment complex, or following an exercise video on Youtube.
Don’t pressure yourself to achieve your New Year’s resolutions. Stress triggers the automatic habitual behaviour we’ve established over the years. You may find yourself retreating back to your comfort zone more easily. This is where mindfulness comes into play.
Mindfulness focuses on what really matters, and helps us stay on track or get back on track. By becoming more aware of our internal state, and the feelings that drive our behaviour, we’ll be able to make mindful choices towards more helpful behaviour.
Having goals is important as it helps us know where we are going. However, it’s equally important for us to manage our expectations – if we set them too high, we may feel discouraged.
Humans have a built-in need for having relationships with other people; whether romantic, familial or friendships – they all count! Frans de Waal, an evolutionary biologist, proved that we are social animals who have naturally evolved to care for each other. It is vital for our emotional and mental wellbeing, and essentially, for our survival. Cultivating good relationships with others begins with having a good sense of empathy.
So, what is empathy?
To put it simply, empathy is the ability to share another person’s feelings and experiences, as well as show them compassion. It is being able to step in their shoes and view life from their perspective to understand their emotions. Empathy is right at the center of trusted relationships.
There are 3 types of empathy:
1. Cognitive Empathy
This type of empathy is concerned with thought, intellect and understanding. You understand how someone else is feeling without actually emotionally feeling it. It enables you to put yourself in others’ shoes, unaccompanied by your own emotions. This can also be described as ‘empathy by thought’, which helps in understanding multiple view points, negotiating and motivating others.
2. Emotional Empathy
Related to feelings, physical sensations and the mirror neurons in the brain, this kind of empathy allows you to share others’ emotional experiences. In a way, you have ‘caught’ their emotions as well – for example, you feel distress in response to seeing a TV show where the character is undergoing surgery.
3. Compassionate Empathy
This is an active form of empathy – there is not only concern for the other person, as well as sharing their emotional pain, but it also leans towards taking the steps to reduce it. It is consistent with what is usually understood about compassion.
In general, we want to acknowledge (cognitive empathy), as well as share others’ emotions and feelings (emotional empathy); but it is just as important to sympathise with what they’re going through and essentially, help them take action to resolve their problems – this is compassionate empathy.
It is important to understand that having empathy is a skill that you can cultivate to ensure you become more compassionate towards the people around you. It is not a fixed trait, meaning there are plenty of ways for you to strengthen your empathy.
How can you improve your empathy?
1. Put your own outlook aside.
We sometimes don’t realize this, but our own experiences and beliefs heavily influence the way we perceive situations and people. Taking a step back and putting our outlook aside may help us tune in better to the person speaking and focus on their issues in the moment.
2. Explore new environments.
You don’t need to go far – explore the next town, or have a chat with your next door neighbour. It’ll give you a better understanding of other people’s lifestyles and cultures. This may increase your appreciation for others. (However, because of the current pandemic, please stay safe at home.)
3. Get feedback from others.
Ask for feedback about your skills (such as listening) from friends, family members and colleagues. You can also check in with them from time to time to see how you’re doing.
4. Challenge yourself.
Venturing into new and challenging experiences will push you out of your comfort zone. Learning a new skill, for instance a new language or instrument, may humble you and humility is the fundamental enabler of empathy.
If you’re interested to see where your empathy level is, try out this quick quiz!