Practicing Compassion as a Wonder Drug (Archive)
This week on our nationally syndicated radio show, we talk with one of the authors of Wonder Drug: 7 scientifically proven ways that serving others is the best medicine for yourself. A self-proclaimed data nerd, Dr. Steve Trzeciak and his coauthor were charged with improving performance and patient satisfaction for a large hospital. The consultants they brought in said that their healthcare personnel needed to practice compassion to accomplish those goals. To get their doctors to acknowledge that compassion is not just the nurses’ job, they collected and examined reams of data. Their conclusion: compassion is powerful and heals not only the person on the receiving end, but those who offer it at least as much.
Human connection is the basis for rewarding interactions. Practicing compassion requires us to recognize another person’s emotional state and to do what we can to alleviate their distress. In other words, empathy plus action equals compassion.
It’s no surprise that people who receive compassionate care are less anxious and more satisfied with it. What is somewhat unexpected is that large amount of evidence showing that people practicing compassion are less prone to burnout and more likely to exhibit both physical and mental health. As Dr. Trzeciak notes, relationships are the key to resilience.
Numerous mechanisms explain how serving others can help us feel better ourselves. Altruistic behaviors activate the reward center in our brain and trigger the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine or endorphins. It fine-tunes the nervous system, so that the parasympathetic system wins out over the sympathetic fight-or-flight system. Taking care of someone else helps to reduce our own stress response and changes our gene expression to lower chronic inflammation. But if you take your action primarily to reap the benefits for yourself, your brain knows the difference. You won’t get those benefits. Giving is not transactional, but transformational. That is why Dr. Trzeciak talks about people who live to give rather than those who give to take.
Emotional Uplift from Observing People Practicing Compassion:
When we observe an act of kindness, it gives us an emotional uplift that scientists call “elevation.” The power of serving others could generate joy in the server, gratitude in the receiver and elevation in observers. Those are more positive and healthier emotions than the anxiety and distrust so prevalent in too many workplaces.
This Week’s Guest:
Stephen Trzeciak, MD, MPH, is a physician scientist, professor and chair of medicine at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, and the chief of medicine at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, New Jersey. Dr. Trzeciak is a practicing intensivist and a NIH-funded clinical researcher with more than 120 publications in scientific journals. Dr. Trzeciak is the author of Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference, and his latest book, Wonder Drug: 7 Scientifically Proven Ways that Serving Others is the Best Medicine for Yourself (with Anthony Mazzarelli, MD). The photo is by Jonathan Kolbe.
Listen to the Podcast:
The podcast of this program will be available Monday, Oct. 2, 2023, after broadcast on Sept. 30. You can stream the show from this site and download the podcast for free.