Gratitude is the type of thing that can leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling in your stomach. It can be an appreciation for something as simple as being offered the last piece of chocolate in a block or as abstract as a pleasant summer evening to go for a walk.
In this modern era it feels like many of us get lost in questions of what next and what should I do and don’t often have the presence of mind to appreciate the here and now. I have realized that the absence of gratitude and the presence of mind which allows us to notice gratitude can contribute a lot to negative mental states, such as stress and anxiety. There are a number of studies which have gathered data to strongly link higher levels of gratitude and practices of gratefulness to individuals who are happier, more resilient and healthier.
The end of 2018 and all of 2019 were my basis for having personal proof that gratitude really can have a positive impact on diminishing anxiety and controlling stress levels. Every day for over 365 days I wrote a list of at least 3 items per day about aspects of my life and experiences that I was thankful for. The process of taking some time to reflect and to notice the little gifts in my day to day life really started to help lighten the mental fog I had been operating in for a long time. Sometimes the things I would be grateful for could be as practical as having my boiled egg turn out just the way I wanted or as abstract as having the ability to see and admire a beautiful sunset. When I had particularly difficult days where I was struggling to avoid panic attacks my friends and I would go back through pages of my gratitude journal and my friends could use it to help me find a positive point of focus to get me through the feelings of powerlessness that can often come with severe levels of anxiety.
Having a practice of gratitude on a daily basis brings positive elements back into focus, which can help provide a reality check when the sneaky influences of anxiety, self-doubt or other negative elements would try and do otherwise. Something as simple as a notebook and pen that you keep by your bed or on the kitchen counter beside your morning coffee mug is all you need. Then committing to spend 10 minutes, 5 minutes or 2 minutes to take a deep breath, notice, appreciate and write down what brings a smile to your face and maybe even warm fuzzies to your stomach could really make a difference in your life, as it did in mine.
Gratitude practice tips
- Have a specific notebook that you use only for this purpose
- Aim for a minimum of 3 things you are grateful for on your list per day
- Try to set aside a specific time in the beginning of your day to focus on this activity
- Add in depth detail as to why you are grateful for that particular thing- e.g. Instead of just writing “I am grateful for my dog” you could write “I am grateful for my dog because his goofy behavior makes me laugh and his enthusiastic affection brightens up my day.”
Keep your gratitude notebook somewhere convenient, where you’ll be reminded to pick it up and add to it daily.