Close up on a man and a woman holding hands at a wooden table

How Using the Gift of Empathy Helps My Anxiety

247
247
0

Have you ever wondered what your purpose in life is? Have you considered what gift you have been given in this life?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently pondering what mine is. It has been hard for me to figure out what I was put on this earth to be or do — to think and then to accept I may have special talents or gifts to contribute to the world. But as I sat anxiously in hospital waiting for my name to be called yesterday, I was reminded of what mine is.

My gift is not a rare one, plenty of other people have this same gift. I have the gift of empathy.

To me, empathy is defined by putting others first and feeling their emotions as if they were my own, sharing their sadness, anxiety, fear, loneliness, then displaying insight to build the person up with kindness and understanding so they feel seen and encouraged. I want them to feel love and that their burden is now shared, their load lightened. Empathy is feeling another person’s pain in your own heart, even if you have never experienced what it is they are going through.

Through the years I’ve battled with depression and anxiety, I have always wished to be the person I wanted others to be to me. I want people to feel like someone cares, that they matter, are loved and respected, wanted, accepted and safe. I want to make the world a better, kinder, more gentle place — even if it is just for one person at a time. In a world where many people are overwhelmed with the stressors and busyness of their own lives, there is little room for meaningful connections with strangers, the old fashioned warmth that used to bind townships together.

There are so many people out there that need someone to take an interest in them and their lives. This could be from a listening ear, an empathetic hug or just a sincere and kind smile. There are so many ways we can make the lives of others just a tiny bit better. A few minutes of friendly conversation can have a profound effect on our lives, helping each of us feel more alive and engaged.

Yesterday, I was anxious and fearful. My body was shaking from adrenalin, and my head was reeling. I felt sick! All I wanted was to sit quietly in the waiting room and be invisible until my name was called. I did not want to talk to anyone, I just wanted to focus on my own breathing and try to distract myself from the knowledge that soon I was going to have four needles inserted into the base of my scalp to try and treat my occipital neuralgia. It was going to hurt and it might not work. I might react badly and feel really unwell. I was stuck in a world of “what ifs.”

But after I was checked in, I was moved from a large full waiting area where I could be alone with my thoughts, to a small waiting area. There were two other ladies in the transit area who were both feeling nervous, maybe more so than me.

My thoughts and feelings turned to trying to help them alleviate some of their stressful feelings and before long, we were all engaged in friendly conversation. I learned things about these two women: their painful childhoods, their hopes and dreams, their lows and highs, their husbands, children, pets and the jobs they could not longer do, and how that made them feel. I learned how many surgeries they had been through, and about their desperation for help. By the time they were called to go through for their procedures, they were both cheerful and relaxed, they smiled as they said what a pleasure it was to meet, and we said farewell each other.

Helping and nurturing others is something I feel excited by, passionate about. It makes me feel happy, purposeful and gives me a sense of joy and fulfillment. Being able to see someone smile and relax gives me an inner warmth. It is not altogether “altruistic,” I admittedly get a lot from this myself. While all I had wanted was to be left alone to focus on my own miserable feelings, something amazing happened when I turned my attention to empathizing with others. I felt better as well. Put simply, focusing on others when I am anxious helps me, too!

When my own name was finally called, my mood was lighter, I was more relaxed. Sharing my gift with them had meant they had shared theirs back with me. The warm feeling had permeated the theatre too. My normally reserved doctor was chattering happily away to myself and the nurses and one of the nurses even commented the other ladies had mentioned me and how kind I’d been to her.

Love is the only thing that can be divided but never diminished, and empathy is part of love.

Whatever our gift is — I believe we all have one — it was given to us to help others. My purpose is to be a nurturer, my calling is to help others. God has given me the gift empathy, along with kindness and insight. Wouldn’t it be wrong of me to not use them, even when life is difficult?

This post originally appeared on The Art of Broken.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via lolostock.

247
247
0

RELATED VIDEOS

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

My Self-Care Manifesto

TOPICS
, Video
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What Dating With Anxiety Looks Like

656
656
0

The older I get the more I’ve been able to understand the impacts of anxiety on my life. From as long as I can remember, unfelt emotions and stressors have triggered anxiety in my present life.

So when I step into the world of dating it makes things a lot more confusing.

For me, dating with anxiety means feeling a flood of emotions all at once. It’s feeling like I’m out at sea, being overcome by the waves. It’s a scary world to navigate.

Before I go out on dates, I panic. Is this going to be awkward? Will I have to eat in front of him? What if there are uncomfortable silences? Will I need to use the bathroom? All the uncertainties and what ifs cloud my head, making it hard to see a clear world in front of me.

This doesn’t mean I’m not excited to go on the date. I’ve had some of the most wonderful experiences going on dates with people I’ve been really interested in, but still succumb to my anxiety before even going on the date. I’ve gone on dates with people I’ve known as good friends for a while but still get flustered and question myself. My level of feelings or comfort around a person does not change the fact my anxiety might play a role. It still does.

My initial instinct in those moments is to cancel. Some days I just want to put my sweatpants on, crawl into bed and watch as many shows as possible to avoid awkward initial first dates or hangouts. I just want to fast forward through all the awkward firsts and skip to genuinely knowing a person deeply. But I have to remember that’s not how relationships work.

Relationships require time and practice. I remind myself to be brave and put one foot out there, even if it means going to dinner with a person I really want to get to know and worrying about having to eat in front of him the whole night.

Dating with anxiety takes time and practice.

But sometimes, I do bail. Sometimes, I’m not strong enough to push my way through the negative self-talk and panic attacks that flood my mind. And that’s OK.

When I do find the courage and strength to push through the anxiety I’m feeling, I still find it in the aftermath. Anxiety doesn’t go away after a date goes perfectly. It continues to follow, popping up at often random and convenient times. When I’ve been in a committed relationship for a year with somebody I love deeply, I still feel the inability to go out in public or be in a large gathering with his friends.

Anxiety is second guessing every choice I make on a date. Anxiety is replaying every possible scenario with somebody I care about deeply in my head at night. Anxiety is wanting to go out and be in public with somebody but feeling inevitably stuck, unable to move or do anything in that moment in time.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via ArthurHidden.

656
656
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Picture I Paint of My Anxiety

38
38
0

I paint a picture.

A picture of a girl who emits a radiant glow, with a smile and a visual certainty she is happy. A girl who is put together — wearing a mask formed the way it was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. A girl who giggles, and blushes, and smiles so bright yet so carefully to make sure she doesn’t attract too much attention. A girl whose life seems perfect, with close friends and family, a relationship, good grades; things desired by those who do not hold them.

Yet the girl could break.

At ease, the cracks are covered, camouflaged on the surface; but within, seeping through is doubt, fear and panic. You don’t see that, but it’s there. It’s always there.

The colors splashing across the picture consume the girl, but do you see the worry in her eyes? Or the tears rolling down her porcelain cheeks? One more tear could shatter her. A fragile masterpiece, a beautiful controversy, as her mind limits her potential of achieving the world.

I am that girl.

I paint a picture of myself, where I form a broken doll, and my anxiety holds the strings. Where will I go? What will I do? I can’t escape my canvas.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Archv

38
38
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How Anxiety Gets in the Way During a Typical Day

4k
4k
10

This morning I woke up and felt amazing after a good night sleep. I turned on some music and danced while I got ready for work.

I left my house, got in my car and drove an hour to my job, singing all the way. I looked forward to my day. The sun was beaming and I couldn’t stop smiling.

I went about my day working and enjoying the little breaks I had to talk to people. I love to be social with others and really connect with people, ya know?

After work, I felt like shopping for a new pair of shoes, so I just went to the mall on my way home. I lost track of time and ended up shopping in a few extra stores. Oops!

I was starving at this point, so I decided to call a few friends and see if they wanted to go grab some wings at the pub.

Before I knew it it was way past my bedtime, but I was having a blast and didn’t want to leave.
It must have been 2 a.m. when I crawled into bed. I wished time would stand still. I was so happy and content after such an amazing day.

Stop!

Who is writing this? This is not something I would write. This is how my day goes.

This morning I woke up exhausted. I’m used to it though. Some nights my mind won’t stop racing and I have to use a guided meditation to sleep.

I wasn’t sure about my outfit and changed three times before I decided on one I felt comfortable in. I hate drawing attention to myself but I want to look nice.

I was running late, but thankfully I only work four minutes from my house. I had time to sit in the car for a moment to get myself into that mood — the one where I can smile and talk to people and make it look real.

I love my job. It’s a huge change from my old job. At my old job, I was busy and all over the place. That was a different life; when anxiety wasn’t as bad.

Ugh, I had to work the late shift and it’s really awkward when you’re alone and people arrive and you have to talk to them. They are all generally nice — but anxiety.

I really struggle with casual conversations with them. I know I’m well-liked — but anxiety.

I had a pretty good day but I couldn’t wait to get home. My son wanted to stop for a Slurpee — but anxiety.

My son asked me if I could drive him to his friends — but anxiety.

I feel bad when I can’t do things. Some days I can, other days I can’t.

I went to make dinner and realized I was out of some stuff. I wanted to go grab a few things at the store — but anxiety.

I ordered pizza online.

My son told me he was bored and I offered to play a board game or watch a movie. He didn’t want to. He wanted us to go out and do something — but anxiety.

I was already home in my safe haven and there was no way I was leaving. Anxiety calls the shots that way.

I checked the clock for the 15th time in the past few hours. I can’t wait for bed. I wish time would hurry up. I love sleeping.

I went to bed and was so comfy — but anxiety.

Eventually, I drifted off with a guided meditation.

I wish my life was different — but anxiety.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via grinvalds.

4k
4k
10
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What a 'Good Day' Looks Like for Someone With Anxiety

4k
4k
10

We talk a lot about what makes anxiety hard to live with, and while it’s important to share our struggles, we can’t forget to celebrate our victories, too. Even if “good days” with anxiety seem like “normal days” for someone else, it’s important to hold on to the fact that these good days are possible — and they will come.

To get a sense of what a “good day” looks like, we asked people in our mental health community to share what a good day with anxiety means to them.

Here’s what they said:

1. “A good day is a day when I wake up without shaking. When I actually crave a certain food and enjoy eating. When I am able to do my normal daily routine without crying several times a day because it’s overwhelming, and best of all when I’m able to be present and have positive feelings towards those I most love instead of feeling nothing.” — Hiram M.

2. “A good day for me is being able to immediately go shower without spending hours working up to it. A good day is going to work and not having a panic attack. A good day is being able to communicate with others.” — Rene H.

3. “A good day is when I can answer the phone without feeling nauseous, or when I hear the doorbell and answer it rather than hiding behind the curtains hyperventilating until I’m 100 percent sure the person has gone away. A good day is when the mere thought of leaving the house doesn’t make my heart race. A good day is when I can reach out to friends without feeling that I’m burdening them or making them angry by bothering them. A good day is when I can merely exist even for a few hours without feeling an invisible weight crushing my body or a terrible sense of dread.” — Sarah S.

4. “A good day is one of adventure. Proving to myself that I can cross new social barriers without much incident.” — Alex N.

5. “A good day is when I don’t obsess about everything someone says. I don’t believe that the world hates me. I don’t feel completely alone when the phone doesn’t ring. I don’t tell myself that my friends are too busy to answer my calls for help. On a good day, I can get out of bed and function in a world I perceive to be my enemy.” — Rhonda M.

6. “A good day for me is waking up in a panic only to realize there’s nothing to panic about. Then I proceed to take my medicine that takes me from the panic attack level down to where my nerves are just plain jumpy. A good day for me is one where I’ve only had one or two panic attacks. A good day is one where I can convince myself that I haven’t done anything wrong.” — James T.

7. “A good day is not throwing up several times in the morning while I’m getting dressed/ getting ready to go somewhere. A good day is not feeling nauseous all day, and not taking multiple trips to a bathroom to dry heave or to throw up because I’m scared or because I’m anxious about having to do something that makes me uncomfortable. A good day is me not questioning or over analyzing every action or words said by myself or others. A good day is when I feel like it’s OK to have generalized anxiety disorder and high-functioning anxiety.” — Molly C.

8. “Good days are days during which I don’t constantly feel trapped and overwhelmed. Good days are days during which I can be patient with myself and remind myself that I’m sick — that I can take things at my own pace, and I don’t have to bull my way through things until I’m reduced to a trembling, sobbing mess.” — Amber W.

9. “A good day is not remembering I have anxiety. Not realizing until I get home at the end of the day that I didn’t feel anxious at all. Not having to be aware and vigilant of my mental health for a few hours. Being able to exist without thinking about it. Just living.” — Clara B.

10. “A good day is making it out of bed and into the shower the first time my alarm goes off. It’s showing affection to the people I care about without being clingy. It’s when I can make it through a day of school without contemplating leaving because my mind is too much for me to handle. It’s being able to smile without forcing it, it’s cracking jokes that aren’t detrimental to myself, it’s going the entire day without getting lost in my head. It’s being able to go to bed at night without tossing and turning for hours and without fearing that I’ll wake up sweating and shaking from nightmares.” — Keeli B.

11. “A good day for me is when my phone still has battery at the end of the day because I’ve not been Googling obsessively or playing games to distract my busy brain!” — Kirsty A.

12. “A good day is a day I manage to walk down the street without thinking I am in danger and being able to act freely without the fear of judgment or social difficulties.” — Katie C.

13. “A good day is being able to wake up in the morning and actually get out of bed. When I can go shopping or do other everyday things without panicking. When I can do things without having to mentally prepare for a long time, and when talking to people doesn’t make me cry or shake. And when falling asleep at night is easy instead of terrifying.” — Rosie F.

14. “A good day to me is when I laugh so hard until my stomach hurts, when I feel like nothing or no one can hurt me. When I’m not constantly over-analyzing everything about my day or the what ifs. But the best part is when I can control an in coming panic attack and I can calm myself down before it gets too bad, those are the good days!” — Becky U.

15. “A good day is when I can plan an outing for my child to somewhere I know will be crowded without having an exit plan. Without obsessively checking every bus, train, streetcar or taxi company in the area because ‘what if.’ It’s not having to ask someone else to come with us for fear that I’ll have a panic attack and need someone to help me keep it together. A good day is getting to be a ‘typical’ parent.” — Amanda C.

16. “A good day is when I feel. I can laugh honestly, feel my girlfriend’s love and really feel life.” — Eddie E.

17. “A good day is when I don’t feel my skin crawling because I’m overthinking that I’m ‘missing’ something or feel like I’m alone in a crowded room. When even if I might have a tiny spike of anxiety, I’m able to calm myself down quickly and continue on with my day. Those are the best days.” — Arisa R.

18. “A good day is when I can be myself in public. Or when I can actually order my own food at a restaurant without being self-conscious about what I’m ordering. Or when I can work in a group for class and be able to be a part of that group. A good day is when I can read aloud in class without my cheeks heating up or my heart beating out of my chest or almost burst into tears when I say a word wrong. A good day is when I can laugh and be myself around my friends.” — Isabella S.

19. “For me a good day is waking up and not spending 30 minutes challenging negative thoughts in my head. Not fearful that I don’t have enough time to get ready to go to work. Not feeling overwhelmed while at work or worrying I am going to say or do anything that might get me in trouble.” — Michael Q.

20. “I good day for me is when I can hold a pencil without shaking uncontrollably, and being able to write down notes from my classes without having a panic attack. A good day for me is when I don’t feel like crying every moment because I didn’t understand part of my homework completely. A good day for me is when I’m able to smile at people and say ‘I’m OK’ without lying.” — Nicole S.

21. “A good day for me is a normal day for anybody else. I just feel at peace. I feel loved. I feel calm and it’s finally quiet in my head. It is wonderful to enjoy my friends and family without feeling like I want to shy away in a corner.” — Marissa D.

22. “When my friends are around. Gives me a good distraction.” — Zakari P.

23. “A good day is a day when I have the strength and confidence to stand up for others.” — Greg P.

24. “Being able to be independent and not requiring constant reassurance or validation, either from the person I’m with or via text message, if I’m alone.” — Laura C.

25. “A good day for me is if I’m able to get through a social situation without backing out or having a panic attack. It might seem like a small thing to some, but interacting with others, especially strangers, makes my anxiety go into hyperdrive, so if I’m able to face that I feel really proud of myself.” — Lydia A.

4k
4k
10
TOPICS
, Listicle
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.