“God gave you a gift of 86400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?” – William Arthur Ward
Stress is our body’s natural response to change – be that good or bad. Positive stress or eustress brings us joy and is usually the least of our concerns. Unforeseen setbacks trigger negative stress or distress. We consider it as toxic and want to get rid of it.
Gratitude: A Natural Detox
Robert Emmons, a well-known mental health specialist, conducted several studies on stress and health which indicated that gratitude effectively releases stress hormones and increase positive emotions like happiness. Commitment to daily gratitude practice reduces an array of negative emotions and is a natural stress detox for the mind and body.
Studies have indicated that people who feel more grateful to Him, are healthier and stress resilient in life (Krause, 2006). An experiment conducted on three groups of individuals, each team representing a particular age-group, revealed that older men and women felt more grateful to God for their lives, and scored a high stress-tolerance index than others.
Pause. Breathe. And appreciate
Gratitude is not a quick heal or an immediate relief for stress. Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean that we will be ever happy and delighted. Gratitude asks us to accept that we are sad and focus on how to reduce it. We don’t expect miracles when we write a gratitude journal; we just get a closer view of the right things that still exist in life. The benefits of gratitude journaling are multifarious. By being more grateful in the inside and expressing it on the outside, we gain the power to combat and cope with the stress.
A Look at Depression and Gratitude
“It is impossible to feel depressed and grateful at the same moment” – Naomi Williams
Dr. John Medina, in his bestseller project ‘Brain Rules’ mentioned how gratitude could be an eyeopener in low times. He indicated that by looking around and acknowledging the support that we have right now, we can successfully shift focus from our burdens to the blessings we have.
Depression has a psychological and a neurochemical base – both of which can be addressed by gratitude. By displacing our attention from problems to solutions, gratitude practices hit the serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin – neurotransmitters that make us feel good. With the surge of these chemicals in the brain, the apathy gets curbed away, and we revive the motivation that depression had sucked away.
Gratitude and appreciation is entwined with numerous benefits including enhanced mood and self-esteem (Killen & Macaskill, 2015). Gratitude as an intervention for treating depression is convenient, less time-consuming, less expensive, and useful for the long-term (Mills et al., 2015).
Gratitude exercises for dealing with depression
Sansone and Sansone (2010), has suggested three gratitude practices that work best with depression and grief
1. Gratitude Journal
As mentioned earlier, keeping a journal where you write about all the people and things in life you are grateful for, can make a remarkable difference in your mental state. We know how a gratitude journal looks like. Here are some tips on how to prepare and maintain one (Emmons, 2011):
Commit to daily practice.
Set aside some time (for example early in the morning or right before bedtime) and journal your gratitude the same time everyday.
Go through the previous pages and recollect the good things that happened to you in the past.
When filling the journal, try to be as detailed as you can. Record every little thing associated with the person or the incident you are offering your gratitude to.
Make your journal attractive. Use colorful pens, stickers, or craft papers to give the gratitude journal an exciting look. Make the journaling more of an experience rather than a daily practice.
2. Gratitude Assessments
Self-assessments like GQ-6 or the Gratitude Assessment can be a good way of evaluating how grateful we feel from the inside. Besides gaining insight on our level of gratitude, gratitude assessments increase awareness and present to us the array of possibilities to deal with our stress and negativities.
You can also take the Gratitude Quiz developed by Mitchel Adler and Nancy Fagley, which gives an accurate estimate of what we are grateful for in life and how we can cultivate the mind to extract gratitude from the kindness we receive.
3. Gratitude Meditation
Gratitude meditation is a simple grounded technique to resonate our thoughts and feelings on all the people, situations, and things that we are truly grateful for. Through gratitude meditation, we choose to focus on ourselves (our achievements, our talents, our feelings at the moment) and on the world (our family, friends, and everyone else who unconditionally love and support us). It enhances perspective, clarifies vision, and frees us from the burden of stress and burnout almost immediately.
How Does Gratitude Impact Mental Health?
“But I know that I spent a long time existing, and now I intend to live” – Sabaa Tahir
Stress does not have to control our lives when we feel and express gratitude regularly. There is no part of well-being that is untouched by gratitude, be that physical, mental, or social.
Practicing gratitude is gaining a life-view of thankfulness. By appreciating ourselves, our dear ones, Nature, and the Almighty, we experience the purest form if all positive emotions. It helps us to realize that nothing is obvious and nothing is to be taken for granted – for it is the little things in life where our real joy lies.
Dr. Emmons, in his studies on the striking effects of gratitude on mental health revealed:
Gratitude practices reduce cardiac diseases, inflammations, and neurodegeneration significantly
Daily journaling and gratitude jars can help individuals fighting with depression, anxiety, and burnout
Writing gratitude letters brings hope and evokes positivity in suicidal patients and those fighting terminal diseases
Gratitude improves the sleep-wake cycle and enhances mood. It helps people with insomnia, substance abuse, and eating disorders.
Practicing gratitude is synonymous to expressing our feelings for others and ourselves. By simple words of love and praise, we not only make others feel good, but we also feel a lot better of ourselves and our lives. Gratitude is about feeling the right way, about the right things, and at the right time. It is inseparably linked with self-discipline and motivation. It may not give us instant relief from pain and stress, but it brings the feeling of control back to us.
Your thoughts; how will you look at the positives in your life going forward? What things can you change today that will help you feel more grateful? Can you begin to see the positives things around you? I would love to hear your thoughts.