How you handle stress might be affecting how empathetic you are.

It's OK; we know how you feel.

"I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it."

That's one of my favorite quotes from the late, great Maya Angelou in a 2013 New York Times interview. For all the differences between us, the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes is one of humanity's most fascinating, wonderful traits.

And it's a good thing, too. Empathy helps shape our sense of morality and plays a key role in how we interact with others.


"Teammate-person, I see that you've taken a blow to the head. I understand how you feel, and I am here for you!" — My guess at this conversation. Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images.

But a recent study suggests that our natural tendencies toward empathy can be hampered by something we all deal with: stress.

We all get stressed out. It's a very human thing to do. Trying to make deadline, stuck on hold with customer service, or even, gulp, headed to the DMV? These are all really stressful situations.

This is basically me when I'm stressed. GIF via "Clue."

And it turns out that when our bodies are in a state of stress, we're less likely — quite literally — to imagine ourselves in someone else's position.

For example, one test positioned the subject on one side of the table with a stranger on the other. From the subject's perspective, a book was placed on the right side of the table.

Here I am, trying to create a diagram. Bear with me.

First, the subject was asked what side of the table the book was on. The answer, obviously, was on the right.

Then, they were asked which side the book was on from the stranger's perspective. Those who were stressed were more likely to answer incorrectly or pause before responding.

The study just confirms what most of us already know.

Know that feeling where you're stressed out and suddenly everyone in the world is just being obnoxious? That moment where you stop being able to (or choose not to) understand where other people are coming from? I certainly do. That's our empathy taking a nosedive.

This is the face of one very stressed-out stock photo model. Image via Thinkstock.

Luckily, there are a few things we can do to help.

Here are three quick tips to beat stress (and restore your empathy)!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some excellent tips for helping you keep cool under pressure, and most of them come down to some basic self-care techniques.

1. Avoid drugs and alcohol.

This one might seem obvious. But as someone who has struggled with alcohol in the past, I totally get the appeal. The problem is that these are only temporary fixes and in the end, might leave you feeling even more stressed than before. If you're able to, try to cut back and see if that makes things any better.

2. Take care of your body.

Your physical health is so important. Are you eating well? Do you exercise? How's your sleep schedule? Do you have a set routine for the day, or do you just wing it? Pulling an all-nighter or skipping breakfast won't make life any easier. Try to set a routine, starting with the basics — like making a plan for what time you want to go to bed and wake up. Consider planning out your meals at the start of a week. Keep at it, and you might form a habit. You know, one of those good ones.

3. Don't isolate yourself.

Consider joining a book club, or maybe an intramural basketball league. These are long-term stress-reducers. And best of all, they help you get out of your own head for a bit.

Everyone has their own stress-busting solution, so if something works for you (and, you know, doesn't hurt anyone), run with it.

We've written about other approaches to keeping the stress monster at bay. We've covered a 191-year-old symphony that might just keep your blood pressure low, the benefits of owning cats, and the "scientific power of meditation."

The best part about all of this is there's sure to be something that works for you. Maybe you just haven't found it yet. Don't give up! You'll be a better person for it.

More

Andy Grammer, the pop singer and songwriter behind feel-good tunes like "Keep Your Head Up," "Back Home," and "Don't Give Up on Me," has a new album out—and it is seriously fabulous. Titled simply "Naive," Grammer says it's "all about how seeing the good in todays world can feel like a rebellious act."

"I wrote this album for the light bringers," Grammer shared on Facebook. "The people who choose to see the good even in the overwhelming chaos of the bad. The smilers who fight brick by brick to build an authentic smile everyday, even when it seems like an impossible thing to do. For those who have been marginalized as 'sweet' or 'cute' or 'less powerful' for being overly positive. To me optimism is a war to be fought, possibly the most important one. If I am speaking to you and you are relating to it then know I made this album for you. You are my tribe. I love you and I hope it serves you. Don't let the world turn down your shine, we all so badly need it."

Reading that, it's easy to think maybe he really is naive, but Grammer's positivity isn't due to nothing difficult ever happening in his life. His mom, Kathy, died of breast cancer when Grammer was 25. He and his mother were very close, and her life and death had a huge impact on him.

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Culture
via Stratford Festival / Twitter

Service dogs are invaluable to their owners because they are able to help in so many different ways.

They're trained to retrieve dropped Items, open and close doors, help their owners remove their clothes, transport medications, navigate busy areas such as airports, provide visual assistance, and even give psychological help.

The service dog trainers at K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs in Canada want those who require service dogs to live the fullest life possible, so they're training dogs on how to attend a theatrical performance.

The adorable photos of the dogs made their way to social media where they quickly went viral.

On August 15, a dozen dogs from Golden Retrievers to poodles, were treated to a performance of "Billy Elliott" at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. This was a special "relaxed performance" featuring quieter sound effects and lighting, designed for those with sensory issues.

RELATED: This service dog and veteran are raising awareness for PTSD in inspiring ways

"It's important to prepare the dogs for any activity the handler may like to attend," Laura Mackenzie, owner and head trainer at K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, told CBC.

"The theater gives us the opportunity to expose the dogs to different stimuli such as lights, loud noises, and movement of varying degrees," she continued. "The dogs must remain relaxed in tight quarters for an extended period of time."

The dogs got to enjoy the show from their own seats and took a break with everyone else during intermission. They were able to familiarize themselves with the theater experience so they know how to navigate through crowds and fit into tight bathroom stalls.

via Stratford Festival / Twitter


via Stratford Festival / Twitter


via Stratford Festival / Twitter

"About a dozen dogs came to our relaxed performance, and they were all extremely well-behaved," says Stratford Festival spokesperson Ann Swerdfager. "I was in the lobby when they came in, then they took their seats, then got out of their seats at intermission and went back — all of the things we learn as humans when we start going to the theater."

RELATED: This sneaky guide dog is too pure for this world. A hilarious video proves it.

The dogs' great performance at the trial run means that people who require service animals can have the freedom to enjoy special experiences like going to the theater.

"It's wonderful that going to the theater is considered one of the things that you want to train a service dog for, rather than thinking that theater is out of reach for people who require a service animal, because it isn't," Swerdfager said.

The Stratford Festival runs through Nov. 10 and features productions of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "The Neverending Story," "Othello," "Billy Elliot," "Little Shop of Horrors," "The Crucible" and more.

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