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How Using the Gift of Empathy Helps My Anxiety

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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.

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Thinkstock photo via lolostock.

Originally published: April 12, 2017
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