Using Gratitude to Improve Anxiety
I think most people have heard about gratitude journaling by this point. It’s become popular as part of the Positive Psychology movement that has been talked about a lot lately in mental health circles. But apart from generally helping people to feel better, what is it that it can do for you? And more specifically, what can it do for you if you have anxiety? Also, other than journaling, what can be done as part of a purposeful gratitude practice? I wanted to explore these questions in today’s blog.
How to practice Gratitude
The most common method used to practice gratitude is use of the gratitude journal. At it’s simplest, this involves writing down things that you are grateful for. Doing so is thought to bring a sense of peace, contentment, and well-being to the writer. But there are other ways that you can practice gratitude in your everyday life. For instance, I often will ask people to do a gratitude meditation where they take time to quietly relax and think about everything in their life that they are grateful for. You could also practice gratitude by sending our thank-you notes or other token to people, making it a practice to note when others around you are doing something well and thank them, or even complimenting yourself or others.
What Gratitude Can Do for You
1. Improves your health. Gratitude can decrease your stress level and help you to cope with any stressors you are experiencing. It can improve the quality of your sleep, improve your vitality, energy and enthusiasm. It can also help build your emotional awareness, and strengthen your immune system.
2. Reduces your experience of pain. Through the releasing of dopamine and serotonin, the practice of gratitude can actually help us to feel less pain, and to feel our pain less severely.
3. Helps us to release toxic emotions. Brain images show us that feelings of gratitude stimulate our limbic system, most notably the hippocampus and the amygdala. These areas of the brain are responsible for managing our feelings and our memory. In a study on this, participants who wrote daily letters of gratitude in addition to therapy reported feeling happier, and were able to recover quicker.
4. Improve your relationships. Gratitude can help build your relationship with your partner by building empathy, mutual trust, and loyalty. It can increase the stability of your relationships.
5. Increases professional effectiveness. Gratitude can increase efficiency, productivity, and foster a sense of responsibility. It builds interpersonal bonds at work as well as it does at home by triggering a feeling of closeness. It also can improve teamwork and the commitment felt towards the team.
6. Reduces anxiety and depression. Not only does practicing gratitude increase your “feel good” neurotransmitters of dopamine and serotonin, but it can also decrease your stress hormones. This comes about through the stimulation of the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for managing negative emotions such as guilt, shame, and aggression.
What Neuroscience Tells Us
A practice of gratitude helps us to feel good and to have an elevated sense of well-being by releasing dopamine and serotonin. If you remember, these are the “feel good” neurotransmitters. Serotonin is associated with feeling of happiness, focus and calmness. Dopamine, on the other hand, is associated with the reward system, motivation and productivity. You can see how these neurotransmitters can help you to feel happier in your life.
But the practice of gratitude goes even further in terms of you brain. Because of the neuroplasticity in our brains, it has been shown that the more often you practice gratitude, the actual neural pathways in your brain that are being used for this practice are strengthened. This means that will be able to access the feelings of gratitude easier, and that you will feel it deeper, and experience the benefits of gratitude in a stronger way. In order to take advantage of neuroplasticity though, you need to practice repeatedly, and you need to be focused on the task so that your brain is fully engaged.
As you can see, the practice of gratitude can bring about some really positive changes in your life. And the great thing about it is that it is really easy to do.
If you’d like to talk to me further about this, or would like to seek out anxiety treatment, please follow the link. I’d love to talk with you.