I can’t even describe how tired I was last night. Yesterday had to have been the LONGEST 12 hour shift of my life. As I sit here and reflect, my patient assignment wasn’t too rough. I was able to keep up okay and even had my one patient up and bathed. Oh, that is right. Bed 13….bed 13 and her family. Oh my. They took all my energy smashed it up and then asked for more. I kept giving and giving and now as I play with my 3 year old, I realize there is no more energy to give. But, I made a difference. I think.
What I gave all day was Empathy. Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings” (Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathyhttp://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy). In nursing, we do this a lot. We use therapeutic communication to speak with our patient and their loved ones about their diagnosis, treatment and plan of care. Sometimes it is a blur for them and us. We hope we have given them everything they need to prevent a readmission. Other times, we feel we go over everything twelve times and still a decision or plan cannot be formulated.
About a year ago while watching Sesame Street, the MC, Murray, was talking about the word of the day, empathy. I continued to watch and wondered how they were going to teach empathy to toddlers and preschoolers. (for a link to the clip in case you are interested https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_1Rt1R4xbM). Amazingly, some days my 3 year old does have more empathy then I which in turn reminds me to have more myself. She asks how I am feeling, does my toe hurt after I stub it, and am I sad…because “mommy, you look sad.” Did she learn this from one episode of Sesame Street? Or I am hopefully role modeling it to herJ!
So, can you teach yourself to be empathetic?
In May 2014, the Reader’s Digest had an article titled “6 ways to teach yourself empathy” and here is a sampling:
Habit 1: Switch on your empathic brain: Simply make a mental note every time you notice an empathic thinking or action in yourself or others.
Habit 2: Make the imaginative leap: Imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. An easy start to this is by watching the video produced by the Cleveland Clinic
http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/03/empathy-exploring-human-connection-video/ this video does a great job reminding us that we are ALL going through something.
Habit 3: Seek experiential adventures: Be in someone else’s shoes. Babysit those nieces for an entire day. Go to a different faith’s services. Try it out!
Habit 4: Practice the craft of conversation: We expand our empathy when we talk with people outside our social circle by encountering their lives and views different from our own. The best people to practice with is our coworkers. We all come from various backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. Ask about holiday traditions or children/grandchildren. People will light up!
Habit 5: Travel in your armchair: Read a book or watch a film outside of our comfort zone. It will help jump start your imagination into other people’s lives.
Habit 6: Inspire a revolution: Get out there! Join a team. Join a cause. In every role, you can set an example of empathy that will be contagious.
You can see more at :http://www.readersdigest.com.au/6-habits-empathy#sthash.KaHoFhhV.dpuf
Go ahead and challenge yourself to be more empathetic. It can be life changing.
Trisha C. Fronczek MS, RN-BC, CCRN
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