When You are Sick, Try Empathy

306781It was day ten of a really bad cold virus at our house. The kind where your head feels pumped full of rubber cement and about to explode. Wheezy, sneezy, wretched. You’ve been there no doubt.

 

 

 

Emotional intelligence, being smarter with feelings, can be difficult to practice well on a good day. But where does empathy go when you are sick or in pain?

My husband and I were both sneezing and shuffling about the kitchen in a daze. In the course of conversation he let slip a story from his past concerning himself, two girlfriends and a tent. It was meant to be funny. On a day of less coughing, maybe I’d have found it amusing. But in my minds eye, I saw my carefree husband having too much fun with females who were not me. No matter that it was 30 years ago. A vivid imagination isn’t always a blessing!

brain-wireMy brain, in its immune compromised state, registered the information as a threat; intruder alert! The emotions? Fear + jealousy. Before I could “name it to tame it” and count to six seconds, I petulantly flung out a scenario involving me running away to Tahiti with some hunky guy. Not my proudest moment.

 

It had the (un)intended effect. In shock he dropped a bowl full of blueberries which rolled all over the kitchen floor. My face turned as red as berry juice. I felt ashamed, wishing I could reel in my words.  How had our peaceful morning turned so stormy? What could I have done differently?

synapse-widened-pertAt Six Seconds, we talk about taking six seconds to breathe, and count down a list of six things in order to slow down the neurological train which strong emotions tends to accelerate.  Research by Dr. Candace Pert, the inspiration for our name, shows it takes around six seconds for the neurotransmitter molecules of emotion to get absorbed back into your body after you’ve had a strong reaction.

Can I have a “re-do” on that?

 

306773So, hitting the imaginary “rewind” button, here’s what could have happened in an alternate EQ universe: I hear the story of the thirty-year-old camping trip. I feel the old green jealousy begin. I quietly observe and name the feeling, remembering it is one of my patterns, then realizing it is escalating, walk upstairs to take inventory of my six favorite pairs of shoes. Upon returning to the kitchen, I make us both a cup of coffee and we remind each other how glad we are to be together, even sharing a nasty cold.

Tea and empathy: antidotes to stress

 

When we are sick, our emotional and physical reserves are low. We are not our best selves. We can remember this is temporary. We can empathize with our partner’s pain. We can take extra care to tread gently. Especially if your misery has company, that six second pause could come in handy.

Rachel Goodman

Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and communications professional, editor, producer, and writer for effective outcomes. Ms. Goodman has been a radio producer for much of her career, specializing in short features and documentaries. Some of her work includes Southern Songbirds: the Women of Early Country Music, Pastures of Plenty: A History of California's Farmworkers, and The Boomtown Chronicles: Reflections on a Changing California. Ms. Goodman teaches journalism at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County. Her goals are to facilitate positive change in the world through effective communication, and to continue conducting her work with the highest level of integrity possible.

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