Empathy and Depression

Depression and anxiety are two sides of a very undesirable coin.  They are opposites, but often go hand in hand.   Depression typically feels like hopelessness despite what is actually going on in your life.  From the outside, you may look like you have it all together, but on the inside you feel like you are being crushed by the weight of the world.  Anxiety can feel like being on a mouse wheel with no way off.  Everything just keeps coming at you in high speed and all you can think about is the series of stressful events to come.  One thing both depression and anxiety have in common is that they feed on your thoughts of how things affect you.  Depressed thoughts are centered around how bad things are going for you in the present and anxiety centers around how you think future events will affect you.  Even if your anxiety is about worry for another person, if you look deep enough you’ll see that anxiety relates to how those possible events will affect you personally.     

One surprising factor in depression is how much empathy you feel for the situations and feelings of others.  Intuitively, it would seem that the more you feel other people’s suffering, the more depressed you will become.  However, assuming you can separate your own circumstances from the situation of the other person, empathy can actually help to alleviate depression.  This is due to the role of empathy in taking the focus off of yourself and placing it on the situation or feelings of another person.  Empathy also often comes with a desire to help others, which further takes the focus off of oneself. 

While depression and anxiety are undisputedly very serious conditions that can have physiological causes, it is comforting to know that focusing on others can help to alleviate some of the severity of the depression or anxiety.  It’s difficult to feel bad about your own situation when you are busy helping someone else with their own.  If for every depressed or anxious thought we did a nice thing for another person, chances are there would be a great deal more joy in our lives.  Please comment below if you have any thoughts or experiences with this technique for coping with anxiety or depression.  I would love to hear from you!

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

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