November Health and Wellness
As we move full steam ahead into the holiday season with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it seems like the perfect time to pause and reflect on the many blessings in our lives. With the rush and bustle of shopping for food, gifts, and traveling to see family, it can all start to feel incredibly overwhelming and perhaps even resentful of the many demands we feel placed on us. Luckily, there is a practice that has been scientifically studied and credited for its many health and psychological benefits. It will actually make us happier and less stressed. This practice is gratitude.
Gratitude is defined as “ The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”. Research has discovered it benefits us psychologically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It is one of the single biggest ways we have control over these areas of our lives, because it permeates through everything.
Benefits of Gratitude
For starters, gratitude helps us to unlock the natural pharmacy in our brains of “feel good” chemicals. Specifically, serotonin and dopamine, having a great impact on our mood. The more often we practice gratitude, especially daily, it helps form and strengthen these neural pathways, making this state easier to attain, and a more natural state for us to be in. Doing so greatly helps to combat anxiety and depression and create a much happier state to live in. This is also a key component of stress regulation. When we view a difficult circumstance through a lease of gratitude and looking for the good, it will immediately shift our perspective to a more positive one, making life easier to cope with.
Gratitude also helps to strengthen our social bonds with one another when we focus on appreciating what others have done for us and how we can return the favor, as opposed to focusing on lack and what we may not be getting from certain relationships.
Overall, both Harvard and positive psychology research have shown that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Gratitude helps activate the part of our brains called the hypothalamus, and all the mechanisms it controls. A couple of the most crucial areas this affects, are inflammation and sleep.
As our stress levels decrease, cortisol in particular lowers in our bodies. When we are living in a state of constant high stress, these hormones lead to inflammation and muscle tension, which will exacerbate any chronic condition, both minor and major. Conversely, if we are in a state of gratitude, we are overall happier and less stressed, causing the “feel good” chemicals we previously discussed to run the show. This becomes a very effective tool with managing our health.
Another benefit of decreasing stress, we are able to mentally unwind ourselves for sleep much easier and faster. We aren’t lying in bed ruminating over all that its going on and every negative encounter from our day. A brain focused on gratitude and kindness fosters better quality sleep, leaving us more refreshed in the morning.
Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
- Keep a journal. Set a goal of writing down no less than 3 things a day to be grateful for- both minor and major things. This is particularly a good practice to do before bed if you have trouble unwinding for sleep.
- Express gratitude to people in your life. Make it a point to regularly and intentionally pick up the phone, write a quick note or email, or send a card to someone letting them know how much you appreciate them and the positive impact they have in your life.
- Focus on the positive. When a stressful situation or life event arises, challenge yourself to name at least one positive outcome from the event and to acknowledge at least another thing going right that you are grateful for.
- Sit with a thought or person in mind and allow yourself to fill up with feelings of gratitude and appreciation. Think of sending these positive thoughts out to those around around you as you go about your day.
I would like to challenge you as we head into Thanksgiving to find at least one of these practices that resonates with you and turn it into a habit. Make a mental note of how you feel before and after practicing gratitude and aim to do this every day. Wishing you and yours a wonderful start to the holiday season full of much kindness and gratitude!