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How to Practice Empathy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Empathy

Verywell / Alison Czinkota 

Key Takeaways

  • There are many benefits to practicing empathy—especially during a global pandemic. In addition to helping you connect with others, being empathetic also helps you regulate your emotions in times of stress.
  • You can build empathy by engaging meaningfully with others, being aware of other people's needs, and being kind to others and yourself.
  • While you can put empathy into action by donating your time or money, in the midst of a global pandemic, one of the most valuable ways to help others is by staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to sweeping changes and disruptions in nearly every aspect of daily life. With mandates and guidelines changing all the time, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by our own anxieties. It is important to practice empathy during this time, not only for others but for yourself as well. 

There are many benefits to practicing empathy. Empathizing with others can help you feel less lonely and more connected. It also increases the likelihood that people will reach out and help others when they need it.

In addition to boosting social connectedness and increasing helping behaviors, empathizing with others also improves your ability to regulate your emotions during times of stress. Feeling empathy allows you to better manage the anxiety you are experiencing without feeling overwhelmed.

Ways to Build Empathy

Some people are just empathetic by nature, but there are plenty of things that you can do to cultivate your own empathy skills. Research has also shown that empathy is an emotional skill that can be learned.

Listening to others, engaging in acts of service, observing the empathetic actions of others, and imagining yourself in another person's situation are all strategies that can help build empathy.

Here are some things you can do to try to stay empathetic even when it feels like staying in touch with other people is more difficult than ever.

Stay Connected

In a time when people are practicing social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine, it’s all too easy to turn inward and focus solely on yourself or your family unit. But research suggests that caring about others is one of the best ways to fight feelings of isolation.

Showing empathy and engaging in helpful actions, whether it’s donating to a charity or writing a supportive note to a friend, can increase your feelings of social connectedness.

So while you may be keeping your physical distance from others to prevent the spread of the virus, it doesn’t mean you need to be emotionally distant. Show concern and stay connected to the people in your life.

Be Aware

Consider some of the ways that the pandemic has affected your life. Are you working from home or on paid leave? Are your kids out due to school closures? Do you have plenty of food in your pantry and freezer?

Now think about how others might answer those same questions depending on their situation and circumstances. Many people have lost their jobs and are out of work, others have no choice but to continue working. Some people are worried about how to find childcare as they continue to work, and many may be struggling to find or pay for basic necessities.

Empathy and understanding are a critical part of compassion and, more importantly, action. Think of others and look for ways that you can help.

Be Kind

Take it easy on yourself and others. It’s OK if you aren’t managing to do it all. It’s OK if your kids are watching a little too much tv or if you aren’t keeping up on your usual routines. It’s a lot to deal with and everyone copes with stress, anxiety, and fear differently. Cut yourself some slack and practice self-compassion.

Working parents are struggling to manage kids who are home all day now that many schools have closed. Not only is the work situation unsettled, but parents are also trying to help kids with distance learning.

Those working in healthcare and finance are busier than ever. Not only are they dealing with the stress of being on the front line of a public health crisis, but they may also be struggling to find someone to watch their own kids while they are at work.

We all have our own anxieties, but that doesn't mean we should lose our kindness in the face of a crisis.

Be Considerate

Sometimes we may be quick to criticize others without making the effort to understand how their situation and experiences are impacting their choices. Yes, it’s easy to lob criticism at others in a time of crisis, particularly those who don’t seem to be taking the situation seriously. Try to remember that everyone copes differently. People may also feel overwhelmed by conflicting information from news sources and social media. 

While you cannot control how others behave, you can control your own actions and do your part by sharing health information from legitimate sources. Ask others to observe your desire for physical distance and try to gently encourage friends and family to stay home, wash their hands frequently, practice social distancing, and self-isolate if they experience symptoms. 

Help Others

In the midst of something that seems overwhelming, helping others can provide a sense of control and empowerment. When the world feels unpredictable and chaotic, finding tangible ways to do good and make things better for someone else can be a source of comfort.

Stay home. One of the best things you can do to support others is to simply stay home. Follow the guidelines outlined by the CDC. Avoid groups, stay home as much as possible, and practice social distancing. Staying out of the way helps prevent the spread of the virus, which helps ensure that healthcare professionals and resources are not overwhelmed.

Some other ways that you can practice empathy:

  • If you are in a financial position where you can stay home, look for ways that you can support others who may be struggling.
  • Offer to help neighbors who may not be able to leave home to get the things that they need. Shopping for groceries and household items or ordering extra items from online delivery or pickup services are good examples of ways you can offer tangible assistance.
  • Don’t panic buy. If you are overbuying items you are making it more difficult for others to find what they need.
  • Donate non-perishable goods to food pantries.
  • Put together care packages for healthcare workers, elderly neighbors, or those whose jobs have been affected.
  • Purchase gift certificates from restaurants and small businesses that have been affected.

What This Means For You

Empathy is always important, but it is particularly vital during a public health crisis. Practicing empathy during the COVID-19 pandemic not only opens your mind to what others are experiencing, but it can also provide social connectedness that can help combat feelings of isolation.

During a large-scale event, it is important to remember that everyone is in this together—think of others, reach out however you can, and remember to ask for help if you need it.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ratka A. Empathy and the development of affective skills. Am J Pharm Educ. 2018;82(10):7192. doi:10.5688/ajpe7192

  2. Inagaki TK, Orehek E. On the benefits of giving social support: when, why, and how support providers gain by caring for others. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2017;26(2):109-113. doi:10.1177/0963721416686212

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