I find it hard to be compassionate when….
I’d love to be more compassionate when…
These are three thought questions I use many times to start a compassion workshop. Most respondents say it is easy to be caring when people seem to be a caring person too. Many respondents find it hard and want to be more compassionate when they themselves are tired and frustrated. Does this sound like you?
As I researched the latest, greatest information on stress, burnout, and work-life balance for a recent talk, I was awe-struck at some of the more recent data. Depending on what you read, the size of the cohort, and the questions, it appears evident that at any point in our lifetime, we are either part of the 50% or more who are experiencing stress, burnout or secondary trauma, or we are working, playing or just interacting with someone who is more than likely suffering from one of these conditions. When more than 60% of a survey state they have experienced symptoms of burnout in the 30 days, it is easy to see how the World Health Organization considers stress as the Number 1 epidemic to address in the 21st century.
Why is this important?
When most of us are walking around with stress we are also carrying increased levels of cortisol. Much has been written and researched about cortisol and its effect on the body and our behaviors. For example, we gain weight, particularly in the mid-section. We may increase our chances of mental illness. Children and young adults under high levels of stress have increased cortisol and may exhibit reduced resiliency and higher levels of obesity.
High levels of cortisol may also create a cycle of stress and burnout. If we are under stress and are entering the energy conservation stage of burnout, we may begin to withdraw and become socially isolated. This distancing of ourselves from social interactions may then affect our connections, personal and professional relationships and behaviors, lower our resiliency and increase our feelings of burnout and stress.
Another consideration is that stress, burnout and compassion fatigue make us vulnerable. Our defenses are down and we may not read microexpressions correctly. We may miss cues. We may be vulnerable to external forces that may not be in our best interests. In addition, stress may affect people different on different levels of the socioeconomic scale. For example, individuals and families in lower socioeconomic conditions may have higher levels of chronic stress and the associated high levels of cortisol as their perception of being lower on the social hierarchy scale may enhance the cycle of stress, affect learning and executive functioning.
What do we do?
Mother Teresa says, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” In this case, as we move about our day, what are we doing with the person in front of us to create a better, calmer world? Here are six thoughts to consider.
1) Show Reverence. Being reverent doesn’t mean bowing down and paying homage. You are revering the person as being part of the human race. Take pause to remember you are talking to a human being with a heart and mind, and who, given the data, may be under as much as stress as you are or were in the last 30 days.
2) Be Kind. Kindness is good for the other person and good for you. It is the best medicine of life. Practicing kindness elevates everyone. You get a nice dose of endorphin and the other person gets a chance to reduce their cortisol levels. What a great gift for both!
3) Quiet the Chatter. Our inner voice does get in the way. Take those 10 seconds to shake off the initial lizard response that may create the difference between a loving, compassionate interaction and one that may result in anger and more conflict.
4) Be Slow to Judge. Our critical voice that is primed with stereotypes, biases, and assumptions may give us false information and result in us inaccurately assessing a situation or heightening an emotionally charged situation.
5) TCOY. As I state in my book, Take Care of Yourself. Yes, it’s easier said than done, especially during tough, personal times such as grieving or managing a silent or chronic illness. TCOY may look different to each of us. Some may enjoy a cup of tea, a hug from a child, or a walk in nature. Allow yourself to enjoy a pleasantry without regret or guilt. You may TCOY once a day or several times a day.
6) Know Thyself. Practice self-awareness. Take pause and assess yourself. Are you feeling persistently irritable? Are you forgetting more? Are you beginning to procrastinate or distancing yourself from others? Are you becoming cynical or apathetic? Know yourself enough to be aware of when stress is taking charge of your life. Take pause. TCOY today.
Want more ways to practice compassion? Enjoy these mantra cards to take pause and reset your compassion compass.