Throughout life it is inevitable that we will face challenges. Perhaps it is the stress from a divorce, anxiety from a move, or grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s obvious in these moments of loss or crisis that there are things that are hard and overwhelming. Our minds naturally give more weight to the difficulties, and I’m in no way encouraging toxic positivity or trying to silver line all your challenges with a “chin up” message, however, there are real mental health benefits of gratitude even during our trials.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is the quality or state of being thankful, appreciative, and showing appreciation towards someone or something. It involves recognizing and acknowledging the positive aspects of life, including the things we receive, the people who support and care for us, and the experiences that bring joy and fulfillment.
Gratitude is often associated with a sense of humility, recognizing that we are not solely responsible for everything good in our lives, and that we are interconnected with others and the world around us. It can be expressed through words, actions, or a general attitude of appreciation and thankfulness. Gratitude is often cultivated through mindfulness, reflection, and consciously focusing on the positive aspects of life, even during challenging times.
What are the Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude?
Practicing gratitude has been shown to have numerous benefits for mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It can improve mood, increase resilience, foster positive relationships, reduce stress, and enhance overall life satisfaction.
Here are some of the mental health benefits of reconnecting with gratitude:
1.It Helps Us To Value Our Lived Experiences
When we take time to recognize things in our life that we are grateful for, it helps us to mindfully appreciate that there are good, pleasurable or pleasing in our lived experience. Not that these things erase the hardships we might be facing, but it helps us to make space for pleasure and hardship to co-exist in simultaneously in our experience.
2.It Decreases Feelings of Stress
Stress plays a significant role in our mental wellness. Early in the COVID pandemic, when lockdowns were common, a study examined the impact of gratitude journalling on participants feelings of stress and distress. At the end of ne week and again one month later, people were asked about their distress, their positive and negative feelings, and their physical health. People who wrote about gratitude experienced a significant decrease in stress and negative emotions compared to the other groups, and these effects lasted for at least a month after.
3. It Improves Sleep
A study was conducted with 186 males and 215 females during which they engaged in gratitude journalling before sleep. The study found that engaging in a gratitude practice before bed predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction. This is likely because having positive and soothing thoughts before falling asleep soothes the nervous system and helps shift into the parasympathetic nervous system response.
4.It May Improve Your Relationship
Research has found that giving and receiving remarks of appreciation (ie. feeling grateful toward your partner) can improve numerous aspects of your relationship, including feelings of connectedness and overall satisfaction as a couple, particularly for women.
5.It Helps Motivate Us Towards Self-Care
A 2013 study asked people to rate their levels of gratitude, physical health and psychological health, as well as how likely they were to engage in self care activities such as exercise, healthy eating and going to the doctor. Researchers found that people who practiced gratitude and were more likely to engage in these kinds of behaviours, suggesting that this habit also increases the likelihood of people to appreciate and care for their bodies.
How do I Practice Gratitude?
And while you can write things down in a journal to record what your are grateful for, there are also other ways you can document or reconnect with gratitude. Try taking pictures on your phone throughout the day of things you are grateful for and review them in the evening before bed. Or, you can use your imaginal thinking and put yourself mentally back in a joyful moment that you experienced earlier that day. If you are creative you can use art as a way to reconnect with gratitude by drawing, painting or crafting something that reminds you of something you are grateful for. There are so many ways to reconnect with gratitude.
I challenge you to experiment with practicing gratitude and to take note of what happens. If doing it on your own seems daunting to undertake, consider joining the Mayo Clinic’s free month long
If you’re interested in incorporating gratitude into your mental health journey, or if you need some additional help with your mood, sleep or self care, get in touch with me. I would love to discuss more how counselling may be able to help you with the mental health challenges you are facing. Our experienced counsellor can help you explore the benefits of gratitude and provide supportive counseling services. Contact us at 902-702-7722 or visit our website at https://restorecounselling.ca to schedule an appointment and take a step towards improving your mental well-being today.