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Caring Helps: Empathy for Others Can Help People Deal with Stress Better

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Researchers explored what factors play a role in how a person deals with stressful events, with socio-economic status also affecting coping strategies.

People with higher levels of empathy employ better coping strategies for dealing with stressful situations, research has found.

Across five studies with nearly 4,000 people, researchers from Bournemouth University, University of Amsterdam, University of Hong Kong and University of Cambridge explored the relationship between empathy and coping strategies. They also looked at how socio-economic status can affect the relationship.

They found that people with higher levels of empathic concern used better coping strategies and sought more social support.

Dr Laura Renshaw-Vuillier, co-author of the research and Lecturer in Psychology at Bournemouth University, said: ‘How we cope with stress can take many different forms – from calling a loved one for support, to taking a walk or accepting the situation with a positive attitude.

‘Some strategies are thought to be better than others, for instance, seeking emotional social support has been shown to be positive, while ruminating has been found to be damaging to one’s health.

‘We found that having empathy for other people can help you deal with stress better. That is, we found that people who reported caring about others also reported using more adaptive strategies to deal with stressors, such as trying to find support from friends and family.’

The research, published in PLOS ONE, also found that people’s socio-economic status affected coping strategies.

‘For people low in socio-economic status caring about others helped them use more adaptive coping such as taking actions to solve the problems,’ said Dr Renshaw-Vuillier.

‘On the other hand, for people high in socio-economic status, caring about others helped them use less maladaptive coping such as self-blame.

‘This suggests that however rich or poor you are, you could benefit from showing empathy to others around you as this may help you deal with your own stress better.’

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