On the path of growth and spiritual development, we often become increasingly attuned to others and our world. Our ability to feel compassion deepens. Concerns about war in the middle east, human trafficking, global warming, and poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks, among many other issues, may weigh heavily on our hearts. As we heal our own inner pain, we may simultaneously be feeling the suffering of others.
This can cause us to take on the pain of the world. We may even believe that it’s the “spiritual” thing to do – to suffer as others do. But this isn’t noble suffering: taking on the pain of others only impairs our ability to be helpful, and can even be traumatizing for us. From my book, Awakening from Anxiety:
When we take on the pain of the world, we may be unconsciously processing emotions that don’t belong to us through our own physical and energetic bodies. This causes us unnecessary suffering and even creates physical problems, like illness or chronic fatigue.
In fact, a recent article in The Washington Post reflected the risk of absorbing the pain of others or the planet on our mental and emotional health. It states that “those who regularly prioritize others’ emotions over their own are more susceptible to experiencing anxiety or low-level depression.”
Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?
There’s a delicate balance between feeling the pain of the world and debilitating overwhelm. Many of my clients are highly sensitive persons (HSPs), so it is easy for them to be overcome with empathy for the suffering of the world and fear about the changes happening on the planet.
HSPs can easily feel the emotions of others, and are deeply affected by natural disasters and other world events. They readily pick up on energy, even if it isn’t conscious; an HSP can read whether someone is safe for them and will steer away if possible. HSPs also are easily over-stimulated by their senses, as well as TV, social media, and radio. Even reading about a hurricane or an abused child can set off their emotions.
So if you suspect (or know!) that you’re a Highly Sensitive Person – and most of us on the spiritual path are – then you need to be very mindful of how you deal with a friend’s grief or the plight of immigrants and their children at the border.
What to Do When It Becomes Too Much
Those of us who feel deep empathy for what is happening on our planet often want to help in some way. Yet we may feel helpless, fearful, or overwhelmed, as it is too much for any one person. If we allow ourselves to be overcome by anxiety or despair, we won’t be effective in our response to the problem and it can have a detrimental effect on our lives.
Here are some tips to help you navigate the suffering of the world, stay centered and more calm, and remain connected to your compassion without creating unnecessary suffering for yourself:
- Stay in the present moment – In this moment, you’re probably OK. Appreciate that and breathe into it. Find the sense of calm in the here and now, and reality check that everything, everywhere, isn’t falling apart right now.
- Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t – There’s an unending list of problems in the world right now. If we take it all on, we’re likely to spin around with anxious thoughts. Where are you able to take helpful actions, perhaps in your own community? Or small ways that you can share information and awaken others to what they can do to help?
- Practice compassion, rather than feeling everything – There’s a difference between compassion, which is meeting the suffering and problems that we see with care, understanding, and the desire to help, and feeling all the pain and fear in our own bodies and psyches. Consider first responders – they are deeply compassionate, but meet the challenges with calm, centered focus in order to effectively help and heal. Remember to practice self-compassion, too – you are deserving of that same care and attention.
- Practice grounding and centering – Remaining centered keeps us calm and in balance. It’s all too easy for our thoughts, emotions, and energy to become scattered out to all the problems on the planet, and lose our sense of self. When we’re scattered like that, we can fall apart with anxiety and despair. Instead, imagine drawing all your energy back into your belly, and breathe deeply. Then, pretend that you have roots from the belly down through your feet, going into the earth. The trees root deeply into the ground not only for nourishment but for stability. Allow yourself to also benefit from the stability that the earth offers. With your energy retained and centered and a solid sense of grounding, you’ll feel better and are more likely to be helpful to the situation on the planet.
- Clean it out daily – Just as we brush our teeth before bed, it’s a good idea to have emotional/energetic hygiene, too. Every evening, especially when you notice that you feel depression or anxiety about something happening in the world, visualize taking a shower in healing, cleansing energy. Picture it as a warm (or cool, if you prefer) light, in any color that feels healing and cleansing to you. Imagine it washing away the events of the day and any emotions or energy that doesn’t belong to you. Feel cleansed and released.
- Tap into something greater than you for strength – Whether you rely on your connection with the Earth, the Universe, God or some other form of the Divine, or a higher principle such as Love or Truth, you can consciously connect to that and draw strength from something greater than yourself. Practice prayer, meditation, and allow yourself to feel the support from the Infinite Source.
Whether you’re affected by a planetary event or your best friend’s break-up, you can respond from compassion without becoming overwhelmed and losing yourself. Use these practices to maintain your center and calm within, even in the midst of dealing with the suffering of the world.
Have a challenge in dealing with someone or something else’s pain? Have your own tip for how to release the pain of the world when it hits you? Share it here.