If you’re like me, today’s stressors are making it harder to show compassion to others – family members, co-workers, strangers and even people you read about. Our emotions are blunted because so much devastation in the news is making despair a norm.
Compassion is one of the most essential ingredients to our ability to thrive and connect. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, especially during times of uncertainty, upheaval and pervasive suffering. But did you know science shows that practicing compassion is a pivotal driver to improve your own brain health and wellbeing? Here are two considerations:
- The frontal networks (which orchestrate our higher-order thinking, problem solving and innovation) and the amygdala (which controls our most basic emotions and the “fight or flight” reaction) cannot be in control at the same time. When we show or experience compassion, we allow our frontal networks to take the lead and down-regulate negative emotions and despair.
- Early results from our BrainHealth Project pilot study demonstrate a positive correlation (p=0.038) between increased compassion and higher innovative thinking after cognitive training. Think about what this means if this finding holds: generating new ways to connect to people helps (1) cognition, (2) the brain and (3) social connectedness and compassion. What a trifecta of good!
This is powerful. The science shows we can train ourselves to interact with people and situations more compassionately. When you are feeling low on compassion toward someone with whom you are interacting, ask yourself:
- What is the context, from the other person’s perspective? I will try to walk in their shoes.
- How can I communicate to engage the other person’s frontal networks of connection and reason rather than their amygdala – full of emotions and points of disagreement?
- What are different ways the other person may perceive my message so I can become more aware of my own blind spots?
You may find that this makes difficult conversations somewhat easier. More open discussions happen when we expand our aperture of acceptance to allow contrasting opinions that may stretch our mind and even to challenge our own long-held beliefs. When you embrace a multitude of possibilities and perspectives, you will also strengthen your brain’s agility and emotional intelligence. What a winning combination!
Take the brain challenge to experience compassionate connectedness. Find innovative ways every day to make the world a more compassionate place by starting in your sphere of influence.
With best wishes,
Published July 9, 2020
See more messages from our Chief Director, Sandra Chapman, PhD here.