As the pandemic continues, a renewed focus on compassion has emerged to push back against feelings of isolation, uncertainty and fears about the coronavirus. Typically, many of us consciously or subconsciously reject the idea of becoming more compassionate. Compassion often is seen as weakness and the assumption is that compassionate people are the first ones to get taken advantage of and spend most of their time exhausted from putting everyone else before themselves.
But research tells a different story. “When empathic communication and compassion exists, clinical teams are more effective, morale is higher, patient safety and satisfaction is higher, and fulfilling the organizational mission is more likely,” says a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
“Kindness and compassion not only benefit ‘those who receive it but also to those who offer it’ and is the motivation why many are drawn to healthcare practice,” the NCBI notes. Rather than being exhausted by their compassion, caregivers and healthcare workers, are energized by it. Compassion has the power to positively transform your life as well as the lives of the people around you. And as it turns out, compassion may be the one thing we need to improve the care we provide for our older population.
Compassion certainly is being put to the test as the COVID-19 crisis stretches on and essential workers in caregiving and healthcare do battle on the front lines. “We have caregivers that have stepped up in ways that just make me so proud,” said Mareanne Fontenette, caregiver recruitment and retention specialist for Amada Senior Care. “They have really touched our hearts. They are embracing the challenges of this pandemic and changing the lives of others.”
Ms. Fontenette shared what she calls “superhero moments” by Amada caregivers as just a few examples of the compassion being practiced throughout the franchise system:
Ashley McGlothin and Elizabeth Blackwood saw a lack of PPE in their community and joined efforts to sew more than 100 masks for their fellow Amada Nashville caregivers, office staff and clients, using their own time and resources.
Rocio Gonzalez-Guerra let her fellow caregivers at Amada San Diego Central know they could count on her if they felt overwhelmed (this was when California was on lockdown). She offered to take any shifts that helped her fellow caregivers who were dealing with any urgent family needs.
Pam Perry made it her mission as a caregiver at Amada Greater Indianapolis to continue reaching out to senior clients on her own time just to help soothe any feelings of loneliness, fear or isolation that came up.
Barbara Wirtz, a retired RN who is a caregiver at Amada Mesa, joined forces with one of her clients who loves to sew and together they made cloth masks for the community. “Barbara helped show her client that she is still able to help others – that age didn’t mean anything in helping make a difference,” said Ms. Fontenette.
Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits of caring with compassion.
What Compassion Does
Compassion. Derived from the Latin word com which means “to suffer” and pati which means “with,” compassion literally means “to suffer with.” But humanistically, compassion carries a much deeper meaning than to suffer with another person; compassion is the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another person’s suffering and you feel compelled to help.
When you care with compassion you simultaneously …
Make people feel respected. When you care for someone with compassion, you make them feel like they are being treated like an individual person as opposed to another responsibility.
Allow them to recover more quickly. Studies have shown that those who are treated with compassion recover more quickly than those who are not.
Make people feel more comfortable. Needing assistance can be a sensitive topic for many seniors. Caregivers can put their care recipient at ease by being more compassionate.
When you care for someone, compassion is not only necessary for the person you are caring for to feel they are being well taken care of, but compassion is a vital component of your overall well-being.
Cultivating Compassion Increases Happiness
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
— Dalai Lama, global spiritual leader
Whether or not you consider yourself a spiritual person, this popular Dalai Lama quote bears a lot of truth. If you are on a quest to add more happiness in your life, the simplest way to do it is to practice compassion.
There is a direct correlation between compassionate people and those who report higher levels of overall happiness, and these benefits extend full circle.
People who receive compassion from others experience happiness, and happier people are more likely to commit more compassionate acts.
Compassion Enhances Resilience
Caregiving is one of our society’s most stressful jobs. Often the most taxing aspect of this job is the emotional toll. This alone requires caregivers to have a great deal of resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stressful situations.
Training in compassion has been shown to make people more resilient – which is critical for caregivers. Compassion even has the ability to strengthen the immune system by lowering stress hormones. As a result, caregivers reduce the amount of time they spend worrying and focus more on the positive experiences in their job.
Compassion Can Reduce Feelings of Loneliness
A common challenge faced by many caregivers is loneliness. Research has shown that compassionate people tend to be more socially adept, thus making them less vulnerable to loneliness.
You may or may not know, the majority of medical students experience a decline in their compassion towards the end of their education. A small study showed that those who received compassionate training were far less likely to experience this decline and as a result, those who received the training were far less depressed and lonely than those who did not receive the training.
Compassion Can Improve Your Relationships
Caring with compassion can greatly enhance your relationship with the person you are caring for. This occurs for a variety of reasons.
Better communication. Communication is essential for enhancing any relationship. Studies have shown compassionate people are more optimistic and supportive when communicating with others.
More nurturing. Nurturance is a core component of a caregiving job. Brain scans have shown that when practicing compassion, their brains activate neural systems known to support parental nurturance as well as other caregiving behaviors.
Easily find commonalities. Finding common ground is a great way to improve your relationship with the person you are caring for. When you are compassionate towards another person, you have an easier time finding common ground. Conversely, finding common ground leads to greater feelings of compassion.
Better understanding. Compassion increases your ability to understand another person. When you understand them, you can more easily assess their limitations and adjust the care you provide them accordingly.
Extending Compassion To Yourself
When practicing compassion, make sure you remember to practice compassion toward yourself. Studies have linked self-compassion to an enhanced ability to cope with life’s struggles with greater ease and this extends to struggles you may experience in your caregiving role.
“Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.”
— Jack Kornfield, author and teacher
Compassion should not be treated as a quality that is “just nice to have;” compassion should be treated as a requirement. Beyond maximizing happiness and increasing resilience, compassion forces you to find common ground between you and the person you are caring for. Only when you realize you may be the one needing care one day will you truly understand how important compassion really is.
“The Health Benefits of Caring With Compassion,” was written by Ashley LeVine and updated by Michelle Flores, Amada contributors.