From frown and fight to freeze and flop : Why stress makes empathy go limp?

Image source: ‘People often avoid feeling compassion for others, feel it’s a lot of effort’in on Sep.01, 2021.

On that hot sultry summer afternoon in Kolkata, I found myself running through the ever crowded Howrah railway station, convinced I was about to miss my train this one time.

My anxiety surged at the sight of a long baggage security line. I was about to give up entirely, when luckily a colleague’s brother- he’s some bigwig in there- saw me and ushered me to the front. At that moment I didn’t care how the waiting passengers felt about this privileged treatment. I don’t even remember much about the people I encountered during that nerve wracking afternoon. I was thinking only about catching that damn train and getting home, a thousand miles away.

In short my empathy graph had plummeted as my anxiety feared its worst hit.

Many would explain this episode by linking my jitters to narcissism, but I consider it differently. I find it a clash between apprehensions and sensitivity. Or maybe it’s the fear and shame of failure that overshadowed the disappointment of missing the ride!

Like everybody I too hate to fail, but then I‘ve another skill to call it shots… I have a natural capacity for empathy and I swear it’s not like some fixed trait. My genes might have played some role in here. I think I inherited it through some great combinations of experiences and relationships… childhood care-givers matter most!!

But it isn’t wrong to say that just as the fear of failure mars the motivation to succeed; your compassion also takes a beating when you are burdened with emotions and anxiety. It unconsciously sabotages your chances of success in a variety of ways. If you have a compassionate bend, you might find yourself deluged with emotions of those around you. When they are happy, you are caught up in their joy; when they are sad; you carry their emotional burden too.

But there is something else besides this that might surprise you! High empathy and anxiety have some unforgiving analogy in between. And you cannot trust either of them entirely for your emotional well being.

Here’s to share something about that strange connection between them and few bonus tips to keep an eye on your emotional health;

Feature credits: ‘Offer Empathy’ by Genevieve Chesney in on Jan.30, 2016.

Want to share but don’t know if you’re ready for it!

When you hear the word-empathy, what strikes your mind? Understanding one’s pain? Feeling bad for another person or perhaps giving a shoulder to lean on?

Yup…those are the things that help in times of distress. But what about empathizing with one’s joy? It sounds alien or perhaps absurd; but believe me caring for yourself is about happiness too.

If it’s any comfort to know; our neural responses are more accustomed to feeling one’s pain more than being happy for someone. This is rather more intense when we empathize distress. We cry feeling more about other’s pain than laugh and love feeling happy for someone. We all have this wonderful ability to respond to difficult challenges of others, but react faintly to other’s joy.

So, can we somehow tutor ourselves to be happy for others as well? Would that make this world any better place to live in?

I tried it cautiously hesitant of the outcome, but it did help. I think this might be the choice you should make a head start with!

When someone brings me some news about something good happening in their lives, I hug that person or at least touch his or her arm in an appropriate way. I look the person in the eye and ask everything about the happy event. I share the joy of goodness happening in someone’s life and don’t hold back anything in expressing it. I share the vibes and could almost feel mirth tingle down my neck! I feel happy to see them stoked…

Reaching out to someone in happy times and partaking, helps in conquering your fears. And…it shores up your aplomb as well!

Try me and witness anger, anxiety and disgust giving way to surprise and pride.

Image source: ‘How the Highly Empathetic Can Avoid Absorbing Others’ Stress’ by Jessica Stillman in

Being real about how you feel helps!

If I were to judge compassion, I’d say it’s a higher state of awareness. In an empathetic state of mind, I could fully experience the anger and wrath of someone who has been wronged. I could even go beyond feeling sorry for what someone else feels. I simply couldn’t keep my head and heart closed for trouble, indignation and nightmares and prefer to see through the present situation with understanding and love.

When we are in a conflict with someone or face something challenging, owning our fears and insecurity is one great way to move past our defensiveness and take a call on deeper issues of the situation; I’d say, more buckled up.

You may not know, but doing this lets you empathize yourself no less. The more you are willing to imagine what it’s like for them, the more of it you’d be able to experience yourself.

Shell shocked and stewed? Brainstorm your way out of chronic stress

Failure makes us feel both fear and shame. On the brighter side, it preps us to find people whom we can trust and with whom we can share our emotions. Once you will yourself to brainstorm your way out of the heat; relabel and play down your stress and save yourself from vandalizing your sunny side. Besides, reassurance and empathy from others would reinforce your feeling of self-worthwhile.

Getting peevish and judgmental already?… Take a break and for a moment imagine a possible scenario as creepy as this! …

You have lost your job in pandemic and desperately searching for a new one. Yet you ain’t getting it and keep failing in finding it just because you don’t know “the right people,. You are at your wits end and reeling with hard time stress.

If you think you failing to make some ground and are clueless how to go about it; start with some small but powerful choices to hit the frame. Begin by setting up for yourself the goal of expanding your social network. Reach out to everyone you know who might help. Even if they are not in your field and couldn’t do much, they might know someone who could.

See… the cliché’ works well when instead of mourning you put your foot down!

Empathy is all about the ability to feel and reaching out to another person’s emotions and thoughts. It gives meaning to our lives and our relationships. It works well to thaw our emotions out of limbo.

#It might also mean getting a job offer from somebody hitherto stranger to you!

Besides, who would say Nah’ to a decent break from some nerve wracking ‘Fight-or-flight’ episode every time each day?

Feature credits: ‘’ Someone else’s shoes’ by Blythewood SBO in on Nov. 11, 2016.

That day in Kolkata, I caught my train. I also learned something. No one wants to live life in a hurry as if they’re always late for a train, too stressed to look around or connect with others. We’re much better off cultivating compassion, rubbing shoulders and accepting that what will be, will be -missing the train journey and all that…

If you were to ask me to explain empathy as I see it; I’d say, ” I know exactly how you feel” Another more jaded one would of course be, ” I know exactly where your shoe pinches most”.

I guess I have learned when to ease off the emotional overwhelm and steer clear of becoming a damaged empath.

All that and more on my own!


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