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Is empathy a thing of the past?

photo of people using smartphones

Feeling heard and understood is a human need.

Have you ever needed someone to talk to who just understands? You were looking for empathy. Empathy is how we connect with others. Essentially, empathy is recognizing and understanding the thoughts and feelings of someone else. Empathy is an important part of our relationship with others. Furthermore, empathy is an important part of our relationship with ourselves. By getting in touch with our own emotions, we can learn to understand others’ emotions. This allows us to see things from their point of view.

Empathy is important.

As mentioned earlier, feeling heard and understood is one of the most basic human desires. We crave an authentic connection—a connection where we can be our true selves without feeling judged. Empathy allows us to connect and build strong relationships.

Furthermore, empathy plays an important role in our moral compass. Empathy is similar to compassion. When we have compassion for other people’s feelings, we are more likely to act in a way that does not hurt them. Without empathy, without compassion, we are often more focused on how we feel and receive things than on how our words or actions may be received. However, the difference between empathy and compassion is action. Empathy is passive, meaning we connect to one’s feelings. Compassion, on the other hand, is active, meaning we choose to act to help someone. For example, empathy is “I am sorry for your loss” because I have been there too and know what it is like to lose a loved one. On the other hand, compassion is empathy plus I am going to start a meal train for you to take off the pressure of feeding your family for a few weeks.

Empathy is not sympathy.

Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably. However, empathy and sympathy are very different terms. Unlike compassion and empathy, sympathy is not about understanding someone’s feelings. Rather, sympathy is about feeling sad for someone else who is struggling. Sympathy is simply, “I am sorry for your loss.” Whereas, empathy was “I am sorry” because I can relate to your feelings. And, compassion was, “I am sorry, I have been there too, I am going to help you.”

When we are struggling, we often desire empathy and / or compassion, not necessarily sympathy. Sympathy is not a connection. And, at the base of all human need is the desire for connection.

Are we raising a generation without empathy?

Social media has blessed us with the ability to connect with anyone from anywhere around the world with the touch of a button. Unfortunately, social media has also provided us with the ability to communicate without seeing how people receive our content. Therefore, we have a whole generation learning to communicate based solely on their own point of view and no ability to see the other person’s reaction. We also have the power to push our energy into other people’s lives. Think about the mean comments people write, including to people they do not know. This has created a sense of entitlement where we believe that other people should receive our energy, even if its negative energy filled with hate and pain.

With the benefits and the drawbacks of social media, the question at hand is “is empathy a thing of the past?”

My opinion.

Empathy is a trait that many of us are born with. Empathy can also be learned through emotional training. Many of us are naturally empathetic, but that empathy is not being cultivated. For example, we spend most of our time communicating behind screens. Especially since March 2020, most of us have been primarily virtual. Over the past year, we engaged with screens more than we did with other human beings, face to face. Imagine growing up with that same scenario, where 90% of your communication is done through a screen—think phones, social media, school computers, television, video games. The world around you is you and a screen that allows access to the whole world.

The next generation is not growing up without empathy. Instead, this generation is growing up in a world that discourages the cultivation of empathy. There is no chance to truly connect, not with ourselves and not with others. Because of the amazing advantages technology and social media have provided us, we have started to forget the importance of building deeper connections. Furthermore, we have not been exposed to seeing the fallout of a lack of empathy behind a computer screen. When we press “send,” we do not see the person, how they receive it, or how it affects them.

Remember, feeling heard and understood is a human need. Social media can help bring us closer to people who also understand us. Social media can also bring us closer to people who choose to be mean and share content without thinking. Therefore, social media itself is not the problem, but rather the lack of true connection is.

Empathy is not a thing of the past; empathy is a very much alive. Thus, it is essential we start encouraging ourselves, our loved ones, and the younger generation to connect with the person on the other end of the screen—not simply the screen itself.

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Why do people with mental illness suffer in silence?

monochrome photo of woman

The Facts

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death at ages 10 to 35 years old.
  • Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death at ages 36 to 54 years old.
  • Suicide is the 8th leading cause of death at ages 55 to 64 years old.
  • Overall, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages.
  • There is 1 suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts.
  • An estimated 285,000 individuals become suicide survivors every year.
  • Approximately 130 individuals die by suicide every day.

Yet, we still do not talk about mental health conditions nearly enough.

In fact, we often avoid honest conversations on mental health and judge those who do open up. The world has provided us with an image of who we should be and how we should act. And, when we do not fit into that image, we become the punchline.

It is no secret that there is a stigma on mental health as a whole. There is no doubt that mental health, specifically mental health conditions / mental illnesses, are extremely misunderstood. We all know that mental illness is real, and every single person is vulnerable to experiencing an episode within their lifetime. Yet, we still do not talk about. Instead, we have established a culture of silence. We actually encourage people to suffer in silence every single time we continue the stigma.

What is the stigma?

  • When you laughed at your friend who was crying.
  • The time you said “you are just being dramatic” when someone expressed their emotions or feelings to you.
  • That time you heard about someone self-harming and labeled them “attention-seeking.”
  • The day you heard someone passed by suicide and your immediate thought was “they are so selfish” or “how could they do that to their family.”
  • Every time you told someone to “just think positive” when they described experiencing depression.
  • That time someone opened up to you and you responded, “how are you depressed, you have so much to be grateful for.”
  • When you labeled someone, who was struggling as “crazy, psychopath, sociopath, deranged, maniac, unhinged, or manipulative.”

The truth is, we have all been both a victim and a perpetuator of the stigma cycle.

We grew up in a world where our favorite television shows made fun of people who went to therapy, used fat-shaming jokes for a laugh, displayed the individual living with mental illness as violent, and made light of many mental illnesses. And we grew up in a world where the news described the most violent criminals as “mentally disturbed.” In a world where no one ever educated us about mental health. No one talked to us about how to take care of our mental health like they did our physical health.  These inaccuracies, cruel jokes, and ignorance made mental health conditions either a punchline or a death sentence for most of us.  In fact, until we struggle ourselves or we witness a loved one struggle, we often do not get an accurate representation of mental illness.

We grew up in a world that made a culture of suffering in silence the expectation. That culture is no longer acceptable. The silence ends here and now.

Even so, with a rising suicide rate, why are people still struggling in silence?

Because, we have not created a safe space. We have not chosen to educate ourselves and our peers on how to engage in a validating conversation. Because we choose to judge people for their vulnerability instead of celebrating it. And, because we have allowed a culture of silence to be promoted for far too long.

In today’s world, people fear missing school or work because of their mental health. People are afraid to be honest because someone might laugh, and that invalidation is too much for them to handle. Treatment options are unaffordable for many people. There are still insurance plans that do not cover mental health treatment (including medication and therapy). Medication and therapy are deemed for people who are “crazy.” Why would someone feel safe to open up and seek help with the stigma on top of the lack of treatment accessibility?

Do not get me wrong, we have come a long way in mental health awareness. We have made wonderful progress toward removing the stigma and opening conversations. However, we have so much more to go. The journey is not over, until every single person feels safe enough to say, “I am struggling, and I need support.”

What can I do?

  • Listen to others.
  • Use supportive and validating statements.
  • Engage in conversations.
  • Remove stigmatized words and phrases from your vocabulary.
  • Educate yourself.
  • Check in with your loved ones regularly.
  • Follow mental health organizations, advocates, and nonprofits on social media to learn.
  • Volunteer with mental health nonprofit organizations.
  • Amplify voices of mental health advocates.
  • Amplify voices of mental health professionals.
  • Amplify voices of people who want to share their mental health journey.
  • Take care of your own mental health.
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Is mental exhaustion real?

crop pitiful black woman embracing knees on bed

What is mental exhaustion?

Imagine you are driving a car across the country. At some point, your car is going to run out of gas. Usually, we fill our gas tanks before it gets to empty. But every once in a while, we push it out as long as we can. What do you do when your gas is empty? Do you keep driving? No, you cannot. Eventually, your car will stop moving, until you refuel it. Your mind is just like your car. It needs to be refueled constantly. If you push your mind too far, it too will stop functioning properly.

Mental exhaustion is a form of burnout. This burnout is brought on by experiencing long periods of stress. And it can happen to anyone. We are all vulnerable to burnout, especially when we feel extremely overwhelmed. It is important to remember that stress is not the same thing as burnout. Stress is a normal reaction to new situations, both positive and negative. Thus, it can actually be healthy for the body. Burnout, on the other hand, is stress for an extended period of time. Burnout can affect your physical, emotional, and mental health.

Burnout can make you feel emotionally drained. Everything may start to seem impossible and lead to detachment. Luckily, you can overcome mental exhaustion.

Am I mentally exhausted?

Here are some warning signs that you may be mentally exhausted:

  • Experiencing symptoms of depression and / or anxiety.
  • Feeling detached from reality or apathy (not caring).
  • Low energy levels and / or lack of motivation and / or fatigue.
  • Difficulty focusing / concentrating.
  • Feeling irritable and / or angry.
  • Experiencing headaches.
  • Changes in appetite and / or fluctuation in weight (gain or loss).
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Insomnia.

How do I cope with mental exhaustion?

Mental exhaustion is different for everyone. As we know, everyone’s body is different. Some of us display more physical or emotional symptoms than others. Therefore, different coping mechanisms may work better for different people. If the first few coping mechanisms you try do not work for you, do not worry. It can take time to find the best tools for you.

When I feel mentally exhausted, I do three things:

  1. I take a step back and try to pinpoint my stressors. Where is my stress coming from? Once I pinpoint my stressor, I create a plan to help reduce the impact. For example, a few months ago, I faced burnout. I realized that I had been putting too much on my plate with tight self-imposed deadlines for over a year. I was spending upwards of 12 hours a day working. And I was taking time away from sleep to workout and maintain a social life.
  2. Next, I give myself time and space. After, I identified where my key areas for improvement were, I gave myself 3 days off of work to catch up on cleaning, get quality sleep, read for fun, and meal prep. These 3 days were also filled with coping mechanisms, like meditation, long walks, and journaling. After 3 days, I felt a tad better and I was ready to start over. I knew if I had taken any more time off, I would feel even more stressed; therefore, 3 days became my rule of thumb.
  3. Then, I reorganize my priorities. When I started working again, I created lists of between 3 and 5 things I had to accomplish each day. The tasks could be as simple as laundry or as complex as completing a workbook for publication. The shorter list allowed me to feel accomplished each day without putting too much on my plate day after day. I noticed that without overwhelming myself, by the end of the week, I was still accomplishing a lot.

Final Thoughts:

We all need rest. When we ignore the warning signs and push self-care to the back burner, we often are faced with mental exhaustion. It is normal to experience mental exhaustion every once in a while. As humans, we often put a lot on our plates. It is okay to burnout, but there are tools you can use to not only avoid burnout but also help you if you do get to that point.

Today, I make ample time for self-care. I created boundaries on work hours. I set aside 1 hour to workout, walk, or sit outside every day. Also, I make time to fuel my body with the right foods and supplements. Furthermore, I practice mindful eating rather than eating on the go. Small things make a big difference in our overall health.

I will leave you with this question, proposed to me by a friend. Would you rather take 20 minutes a day away from work for self-care or would you rather take 3 days away from work from mental exhaustion?

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Is there a connection between nutrition and mental health?

assorted sliced fruits in white ceramic bowl

The connection between our diet and mental health has been long debated. Mental health conditions are complex. It can be hard to find a direct link between one cause and one illness. However, we do know there is a mind body connection. Also, we do know that nutrition affects our physical health. Therefore, it would be plausible to conclude that nutrition affects our mental health.

Science and research have found links between mental health and high sodium, sugary foods, excessive high saturated fats. Why do highly processed foods often lead to a depressed mood? Simple, the heavier the food makes us feel, the lower our energy levels tend to be. Why else? Highly processed foods often do not have enough of the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that we need. Furthermore, even with our FDA regulations, plenty of foods that we consume on a routine basis include traces of microplastic (think seafood, plastic packaging), chemicals (think pesticides, bpa, and preservatives), and added hormones / antibiotics (think meat). As we know, our physical and mental health are connected. When one declines, the other one often declines as well. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to what we put on, around, and into our bodies.

When we consume highly processed foods, we put things into our bodies that are not easily broken down and are often harmful. For example, processed foods have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In general, most physical illnesses often cause emotional stress, mental fatigue / exhaustion, and decreased energy levels. All of these factors can affect our mental health. As you can see, there is a link between what we put into our body and how it affects both our physical and mental health.

My Experience:

A few months ago, I was experiencing severe mental exhaustion. It was hard for me to get out of bed, and I spent most of my time struggling to keep my eyes open. In fact, there were multiple days in a row that I did not get up at all. I had severe migraines every day with low energy levels. And, I skipped the gym for 2 weeks (I normally go 1-2 times a day), and I was feeling very down. I felt irritated easily. And, I felt sick constantly. My depressive symptoms seemed to have worsened as well.

I went to the doctor. The doctor ordered 3 blood tests. The first test checked my vitamin, cholesterol, and thyroid levels (a routine test). Next, the second test checked my hormone levels. And, the third test was a MRT blood panel.

The first two blood tests resulted in deficiencies that required me to take daily supplements. The deficiencies were connected to mood instability, decreased energy levels, and muscle pains. My doctor explained that vitamin deficiencies on top of hormonal deficiencies can amplify symptoms. Therefore, my doctor(s) gave me a list of 10 supplements and medications that I needed to take. The doctor explained which supplements I should take in the morning and which in the evening. Of course, I did my own research as well. Then, I found vegan, organic, non-gmo, trusted sources for my supplements.

Next, the MRT blood panel told me which foods my body was sensitive too. It also gave me a LEAP diet plan to help reintroduce foods into my body and see how I react. I learned that almost everything I consumed on a daily basis was not good for my specific body. This included “healthy” foods, like chicken, apples, strawberries, and more. I also learned which medications were not good for my body.

After adjusting my lifestyle to incorporate foods and supplements that were good for my body, I started to see a difference. I noticed my energy levels were increasing. And, I did not need nearly as much caffeine to get through the day. I was able to focus for extended periods of time again. I was not feeling as depressed and irritated on a daily basis. My body did not ache as much. And I did not feel sick every day.

Final Thoughts:

Everyone’s body is different. Therefore, our lifestyle should be tailored to our specific bodies. Some foods may affect your body differently than others. The important piece is educating yourself with the tools and resources available to learn more about how what you put into your body affects your body. Paying attention to labels on food, drinks, and supplements you purchase is also a key part of nutritional eating. Remember, what you consume is what fuels your mind. So, let me ask you, how do you want to fuel your mind?

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The different faces of depression.

woman placing her finger between her lips

I cannot tell you how many times someone has looked at me and said, “You do not look like you live with depression.”

Depression: An Invisible Illness

Mental illnesses and mental health conditions are invisible illnesses. Many of us are covered in invisible scars. Invisible scars marked by every trauma, every intrusive thought, every adverse childhood experience, and every loss. These scars are called invisible because you cannot see them. The person covered in invisible scars, however, can feel all of them. Just because you cannot see someone’s pain does not mean the pain does not exist.

Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness. Symptoms of depression often include decreased energy levels, constant fatigue, and loss of pleasure in things one previously enjoyed. Therefore, a lot of people have an image of depression being someone who lays in bed and cries day after day. What many people do not consider is that many people are able to put on a brave face and hide it.

What does depression look like?

Depression has many faces. Someone can feel extremely depressed and still show up to work with a smile. Likewise, someone can be experiencing severe suicidal thoughts and still spend the day smiling with their family. Someone can be living with major depressive disorder and have on a smile, show up to work every day, take care of their family, workout daily, eat healthy, and laugh with friends. Someone can post beautiful photos showcasing their “amazing” life moments before attempting suicide or moments after self-harming.

Individuals living with depression often have many faces, in particular, the face they show to the world and the face they show to themselves. To the world, the eyes and smile hide the pain, but when in silence and solitude, the pain often feels all-consuming.

The Stigma on Depression.

The stigma on depression makes people believe if they do not see someone struggling, if they do not see the tears, the pain, the hopelessness, the fatigue, and the brokenness, then that person is attention-seeking or dramatic. However, you do not see what happens behind closed doors. When someone seems “functional” that does not mean it was easy to get out of bed that morning. Someone with depression can experience bursts of energy as they try to fit in, often times seeming like the life of the party. Yet, that does not mean when they go home, they are not falling apart alone.

Furthermore, the stigma on depression leads to excessive invalidation. “You have no reason to be depressed, look at everything you have.”

I had everything, and I was absolutely broken inside. I kept it all together enough to where I would never let you down, but I kept it too much together to where I let myself down.

Selena Gomez, American Music Awards

Regardless of what you have in life or what your life appears to be in the eyes of others, your feelings, and your thoughts matter. Depression is like any other illness,

Illness is the great equalizer. It does not matter who you are, rich or poor, young or old, fat or thin, sick is sick.

Fran Drescher

We are all vulnerable to physical and mental illness. And, like physical illness, mental health symptoms present themselves differently for different people.  

The stigma on depression also makes individuals struggling believe if they do not have a suicide note in hand then they are not worthy of reaching out for support.

The advice I would give to somebody that is silently struggling is, you do not have to live that way. You do not have to struggle in silence. You can be un-silent. You can live well with a mental health condition, as long as you open up to somebody about it, because it is really important you share your experience with people so that you can get the help that you need.

Demi Lovato

You do not have to struggle in silence, because your depression is “not severe enough.” You are important, and you deserve to get the help and support you need, regardless of who has it worse or how your symptoms present themselves.

Final Thoughts.

Depression is not black and white. It looks differently on everyone. Just because other people cannot see your mental health condition / mental illness does not mean you or someone you know is not struggling. We need to stop invalidating ourselves and others. We need to start listening, learning, and validating.

I will leave you with this,

Scars remind us of where we have been. They do not have to dictate where we are going.

David Rossi

And, yes that includes invisible scars.