Why Empathy is Important

Too Much Too Fast

Senior year was approaching fast, and so was the workload. My freshman and sophomore year of college I was working on transferring into the business school. Since I was not in the business school yet, I was not allowed to take any business classes until I was accepted. During this time I took all of my arts and sciences classes to get them out of the way. They were not difficult classes and I had a lot of free time on my hands since I was not working either. Come junior year, I finally got accepted into the business school- and relief flooded over me. However, since I took all my arts and sciences courses, I had to take purely business classes from here on out.Public speaking

My first day of school in Leeds was more than overwhelming. It was only the first week and I was completely swamped with work. Not to mention I was also working part time around 20 hours a week. I thought I had everything under control, but then one day I completely lost it. I’ve been good at managing my anxiety during less stressful events, but now that I could barely catch a break, neither could my body. I experienced my first panic attack.

Thinking about my upcoming accounting test, my palms started getting sweaty. Next my whole body got really hot and I was struggling to catch a breath. My mind would not stop racing and I started to shake. I felt sick to my stomach and spent the whole day leaned over a toilet instead of studying- which only made the anxiety worse. I ended up going to the hospital that night instead of taking my accounting test.

Empathize- don’t sympathize

My roommates at the time were also my closest friends and we spent a lot of time together. However, neither of them had ever actually experienced a panic attack before or knew what it felt like. One roommate would tell me to just breathe and relax- as if it was that easy. She was clearly sympathizing with me at this moment and did not understand boundaries either. Instead of feeling what I was going through she merely saw my pain- then tried to fix it. According to the article “Empathy vs. Sympathy” she chose to acknowledge I was in pain without trying to understand what I was feeling.

My other roommate reacted differently when I opened up about how I was feeling. She bought me flowers, and instead of trying to fix my problem, she understood it. She knew that she might not have experienced a panic attack before but she would try her best to understand what I was going through. There was no judgement, no criticism; just silence and a mutual understanding between us, which is exactly what I needed. I didn’t need to be told to “get over it” or “go for a run, you’ll feel better”, I needed empathy. I needed that understanding that sometimes it’s impossible to just be okay. And she knew that; she put herself where I was and didn’t cross any boundaries.

Empathy in the workplace

“Empathy in the Workplace” explains how employers need empathy in order to show their employees that they care. When an employer can empathize with an employee they build trust with each other. If an employee is dealing with hardships outside of work, it is important that the employer empathizes with them instead of criticizing them for a poor performance. This leads to a more successful workplace because it builds the relationship between an employer and employee.

When you empathize with someone, in the workplace or not, you show them that you actually care about them and you want to know what they are feeling so that you know how to help them better and make sure they succeed despite adversity.



4 thoughts on “Why Empathy is Important

  1. Good job powering through the pain. I’m taking two accounting classes this summer, one of which I just finished. The midterm was 8 days after the first day of class and the final was 10 days after the midterm. I know the struggle, but thankfully we were able to power through!

  2. Laura,
    Im sorry to hear that you such a rough introduction to the business school. To be fair, from my experience accounting tests pretty much gave everyone more anxiety than pretty much any other subject in Leeds. I am glad to see that you powered through it.

  3. I went through the same thing during school. I started arts and sciences and have been taking all business classes the last two years. It is intense. I have experienced anxiety attacks exactly like what you went through. It is hard for other people to understand if they haven’t experienced it.

  4. I have an anxiety disorder and am all too familiar with how panic attacks can screw us up. It’s amazing to me the the things that people have said when I’m panicking (if I could “just breathe” I would!!). When I was hiking a few weekends ago, we hiked up some beautiful bluffs to get a view of Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin. My brain mistook my elevated heart rate and breathing for a panic attack, so there I was, knowing I was totally safe and doing something I love, but experiencing something usually reserved for times of huge stress. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it (though I’d been very anxious before our trip after the semester’s end, etc., so I think I know where it came from). My point is that this shit happens and we can’t control it. I always say that people who have anxiety have warrior hearts because they walk into situations their bodies tell them are life or death all the time. You’re a courageous gal, Laura.

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