Scaling compassion to reduce suffering

May 24, 2021 - 7 min read

Dr. Amit Sood, Professor of Medicine (Retd.), Mayo Clinic is a leading researcher, author, and practitioner in the field of resilience. BetterUp is delighted and humbled to welcome Dr. Sood to our Science Advisory Board.

woman and man talking-build resilience-eliminate stress

Imagine a hungry lion chasing a gazelle in a thick forest. The young gazelle is in her top form and escapes. What would she be doing five minutes later? Back with her herd munching grass, isn’t it?

Now, imagine a lion chasing a human being in the same forest. The person escapes. What would he be doing five minutes later? Most likely anxious and hyperventilating. He might never go back to a forest and will likely need therapy for years.

Two species, same experience, but a very different emotional outcome. Why is that? It’s because of our brain’s phenomenal ability to think, remember, and imagine. Our brain’s tremendous cognitive power keeps the memory of our struggles fresh. The great gift of our brain often hurts us emotionally. 

No species on the planet struggles emotionally as much as humans. This awareness fills me with compassion.

Compassion is a very powerful force. It has driven me over the last two decades to pursue this simple question with a singular focus: How can we repurpose the human brain, a tool designed for survival and safety, to deliver lasting peace and happiness?

The answers that I have stumbled upon on this journey give me hope. The hope that understanding the neural basis of emotional suffering and finding and sharing creative solutions can transform every person’s life experience. This hope-fueled striving helps me pursue my life’s mission – to eliminate optional stress.

Stress can be optional in situations where our mindset has a large role to play in our experience. For example, spilled milk on the dining table can be a moment of laughter or anger, depending on how you react to it. 

Stress, however, isn’t so optional for those caught in challenging life situations such as poverty, illness, and trauma. Such situations, if they become chronic, redesign our brain. Poverty, for example, causes atrophy of the hippocampus (memory area of the brain) and the pre-frontal cortex (our central executive). Without intervention, these changes become permanent and  can lock people and families in the poverty cycle for generations.

Yet, having lived amidst a low-income population in a developing country for the first three decades of my life, I know that trauma and atrophy are not inevitable. I have seen countless times, with just a little help, well-being and resilience blooming despite challenging life situations.

This awareness gives me another reason for hope – that as society changes realities for the resource-deprived and the well-being world shares its learnings globally – we might create a level playing field where every person has the opportunity to thrive. The scientific studies I have read and helped conduct and the related perspective drive my life’s second mission – to democratize resiliency and well-being. 

Democratizing resiliency and well-being will provide every person access to resiliency and well-being solutions, irrespective of their ability to pay. 

I know that trauma and atrophy are not inevitable. I have seen countless times, with just a little help, well-being and resilience blooming despite challenging life situations.

In today’s world, when a deluge of cognitive and emotional load challenges our vulnerable brain (an instrument that wasn’t designed to lift so much load), mission-driven companies like BetterUp can provide essential support and tools to people globally. They can move the conversation and awareness around mental health, as well as deployment of practical tools and interventions to improve well-being and resilience on a larger scale. 

Resilience and well-being solutions and coaching aren’t optional anymore. They are vital to help your mind breathe.

I am truly privileged and grateful to join and serve as a scientific advisor to BetterUp and look forward to continuing our journey together – to bring you solutions that help eliminate optional stress and democratize resiliency and wellbeing.

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Published May 24, 2021

Dr. Amit Sood MD MS FACP

BetterUp Science Board

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