By Landon Moyers DNP, PMHNP-BC
Depression and anxiety are prevalent in our modern culture. Anxiety and fear have been driving much of the depression and exhaustion that we are seeing right now. Currently many of us fear for our health or the health of a loved one, or fear for our family’s financial security. This fear based self-focus is the perfect storm for depression. The shortcomings of others and ourselves are brought into sharper focus, something research has shown for decades worsens depression and a sense of isolation.
Compassion for others and for ourselves is the antithesis of depression and isolation. Luckily, we are hardwired for compassion. In fact, most mammals are. Even mice show compassion for each other and will heal more quickly from physical injury when they are the recipient.
The Dalai Lama once said “A compassionate concern for others is the source of happiness”, and the Buddha is paraphrased as having said “what is that one thing, which when you possess, you have all other virtues? It is compassion”.
What is compassion? In the book A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, Thupten Jinpa, says, “Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved.”
When we show compassion for others, we experience an aspect of joy that the psychologist and writer Paul Eckman calls “moral elevation.” It takes place when we act compassionately towards ourselves and others, or even witness compassion. It triggers a release in oxytocin and endorphins in the brain that are almost unmatched in their ability to stimulate joy and a sense of wellbeing. Even more rewarding is that it triggers compassion in the recipient as well that usually resonates two to three degrees of separation creating well being in your extended social group. Remember compassion is feeling for another along with the motivation/action to alleviate suffering. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, he says that to be compassionate we don’t get under the rock that we see crushing another, we act to help remove the rock.
What are the rocks that you see in others’ lives? Are there ways you can help in a healthy way? If you can’t help fix it, can you hold a safe space for them, give them encouragement? What are the rocks that you place on yourself through negative self-talk or self-blame? Would you tolerate those same things being said if they were coming from another person? What advice would you give a friend if you knew they were telling themselves the same things?
Let us not neglect our needs for self-compassion out of fear or the drive to be more, get more, do more, or do better. Sometimes it’s about recognizing you are enough, you are lovable, you are worthwhile. We may have things we want to improve and that can be positive but only when we start from a place of recognition that we are enough, we are lovable, and we are worthwhile.
Try using compassion today, you might be surprised by how it impacts you and how far it spreads.
If you are interested in compassion and how it can impact your life take a look at The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World and A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives.