Adulting 101: Practicing empathy in the midst of the coronavirus crisis

JR Ilagan
Adulting 101: Practicing empathy in the midst of the coronavirus crisis
Practicing empathy does more than broadening our perspective, it also gives us a sense of connectedness with those around us


Just as COVID-19 spreads exponentially across the country, so does its effects on Philippine society.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen the virus affect the country – from public health and economy to our personal anxieties and feelings about our safety. While the government has been attempting to address these issues in various ways – mandates continually being changed and passed daily – this article, however, will not be about how we, as a country, have been managing the effects of COVID-19. Instead, we will be talking about how all this is taking a toll on us citizens. 

Don’t get me wrong; systematically approaching this crisis is definitely needed. However, it is as crucial that we never forget about the individual – you, me, and everyone else – as human beings. One way in which we can do this? Practicing empathy.

According to Ioannidou and Konstantikaki in their journal article “Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: What is it really about?”, empathy can be defined as the capacity of a person “to share and understand another’s state of mind or emotion.” In these times of fear and ambiguity, the need to survive may take precedence over the other things that we may be feeling, thinking, and experiencing. 

Feelings of fear and anxiety may begin to surface, as well. (Note: all of these reactions are normal, and you can check out this article for tips on how to manage anxiety and keep calm even with everything happening today.) 

However, despite fear, anxiety, and the need to survive being natural reactions, they can also make us less empathic towards others. During these trying times, let’s try to look past ourselves and towards the well-being of others by practicing empathy amid this crisis. 

Raise self-awareness (before you tweet)

For many people, responsibilities, such as work and school, have ceased operations. This can be an excellent time to look at how COVID-19 is affecting others differently from how it is affecting us. 

Are we on a break from work but are still being paid? Have classes been suspended, giving us time to recuperate? Is there food in the freezer to last us until we can go to the grocery next?

Asking these questions to ourselves can help put things into perspective. For some people, the whole COVID-19 situation may be a mere inconvenience; for others, it can mean not having access to basic necessities. 

When asking these questions, it might begin to make sense as to why some of our fellow citizens find it difficult to just stay home during the crisis — they may not have the choice too. In times like this, being sensitive to how the virus may be affecting people on various levels is another way that we can express empathy. 

Do NOT panic buy

The fear and uncertainty of the whole COVID-19 situation in the country have resulted in accounts of panic buying. At the core of panic buying is the need to survive and the fear that supplies may not last. The national government, however, has already mandated that essential services, such as groceries and pharmacies, will continue to be operational for the time being; thus, making it unnecessary to hoard supplies.

A direct effect of panic buying is that people who may have less access to establishments (for reasons such as not having a car to travel while there is a ban on public transportation) are placed at a disadvantaged position. By only buying what is necessary, others are given an opportunity to purchase products that they may need too. We can practice empathy by only buying what we need. 

Find ways to help 

Practicing empathy does not necessarily have to stop at an understanding of other people’s situations. In fact, it can be supplemented by actually reaching out!

If you’ve been online in the past few days, you might have stumbled upon posts on social media that have shown establishments, like restaurants, and individuals sending supplies to those on the front lines, fighting the virus. For those of us who intend to support the men and women fighting the outbreak, we can do so through the following means:

  • Philippine General Hospital: Contact Dr. Mia Tabunar at (02) 8554 8400 loc 2004
  • The Kaya Natin! Movement, in coordination with the OVP: bit.ly/forCOVID19frontliners
  • Philippine Red Cross: Contact Shervi Mae R. Corpuz at (02) 8790 2300

(READ: LIST: How to help healthcare workers, front-liners during coronavirus pandemic)

Help can come in different forms too! There may be individuals in our communities that may currently be under duress due to the whole COVID-19 situation. We might have a neighbor that is struggling financially due to a “no pay, no work” scheme. There might be workers and security guards who are stuck in their posts because they can no longer travel within the community. Extending a hand to these people in the form of social support, food, or other necessities is another way we can be empathic!

Benefits of empathy

Practicing empathy does more than broadening our perspective, it also gives us a sense of connectedness with those around us. 

In a time plagued with anxiety, fear, and uncertainty, a sense of shared humanity, compassion, and understanding amongst us in the Philippines is something we seem to be in dire need of. – Rappler.com

JR is a practicing psychologist and the Director for Personnel Management and Development in Gray Matters Psychological and Consultancy Inc. Most of his cases involve depression, anxiety, self-harm, adjustment difficulties, and career-related issues. He is also a lecturer in the Psychology Department of Ateneo de Manila University, where he is currently taking his PhD in Psychology. When he isn’t ‘psychologizing’ and teaching, he likes spending his time boxing and making music with his band, Ars.

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