How Gratitude Benefits Your Mental Health
In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s often all too easy to get caught up in the cycle of seemingly chaotic responsibilities, daily office or internet drama, or overwhelming global events.
For many people, the result can be a lifestyle that feels like a continuous stream of problems to be solved, demands on their time, or setbacks to overcome. And on a certain level, although we understand it really isn’t always so, the cumulative effects of stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on our mental health. Although we may not even be aware of it, that steady emotional erosion can result in habitual worry, fatigue, a sense of undefined grief, a feeling of dullness or mental numbness, and depression.
If that’s you, you may want to consider taking a step back for a moment – and consciously choose to acknowledge the abundant good that also surrounds us. By doing so, you’re taking the first steps toward cultivating a state of gratitude and wonder that can have a profoundly positive impact on your mental health.
Harnessing the Power of Gratitude
More than just a vague feeling of being grateful for what we have, or routinely saying “thank you”, gratitude practice involves a deliberate and powerful shift in mindset. It’s about cultivating a perspective that involves recognizing and appreciating the good things in our lives, both great and small, on a deeper level.
There are several ways you can gently begin to introduce those new perspectives to your life right now:
- Take a few minutes every day to quieten your mind and simply reflect on the aspects of your life that are most meaningful and valuable to you, and experience the emotion of gratitude that this produces. The best times to do this are just after you wake up, and before you go to sleep at night.
- Focus on the things you can control, and try not to be consumed by situations or events beyond that. Very often, our unhappiness is rooted in a sense of helplessness at circumstances we can’t change – but by changing our response to those circumstances, we reclaim our power. This in turn brings a sense of gratitude, not just for the inner peace and spaciousness it produces, but for our growing ability to filter out unnecessary stress.
- Every day, take a spontaneous moment or two and remind yourself to simply be present in the moment. Be aware of the beauty around you – maybe a tree or garden, maybe someone smiling, maybe a moment of kindness or consideration between two strangers. It’s okay to step out of survival mode and into appreciation mode whenever you want to.
- Consider limiting your exposure to the endless stream of news and social media that virtually forces us to focus only on the latest disaster. Doomscrolling is a tactic devised by media networks to keep you stuck in a pattern of helpless anxiety – but you have the power to change that.
In the realm of mental health, the daily practice of gratitude becomes a transformative force that can bring about lasting positive change.
Gratitude and the Brain
Neuroscience research has shown that practicing gratitude can lead to physical changes in the brain. When you express gratitude, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and the regulation of mood. This chemical response helps create a positive feedback loop, which inspires you to engage in other purposefully positive behaviors – and by doing so, significantly improving your overall mental well-being.
It’s worth remembering that gratitude also extends to experiences far deeper than just chemical reactions and neurotransmitters. There’s an element to gratitude that could be described as deeply meaningful or even spiritual in nature. And it’s a vital part of the holistic human experience.
Studies have shown that the practice of gratitude, framed within experiences like prayer or meditation, has a profoundly positive effect on brain structure, mental health, and physical wellness.
The Link Between Stress Reduction and Gratitude
Stress is one of the most significant factors contributing to mental health challenges in the modern world.
The demands of modern life can be overwhelming, and the chronic stress this produces can take a toll on our mental and physical health. Gratitude acts like a counterbalance to stress, enabling us to focus on things that are going well instead of dwelling on what is going wrong. Whether you’re experiencing adversity, processing grief, or in physical pain, this simple but hugely important shift in mindset can reduce stress levels and contribute to a happier, more resilient mental state.
Gratitude and Relationships
Our connections with others play a vital role in our mental health. Expressing gratitude in our relationships fosters a positive environment and strengthens the bonds we share with those around us. Whether it’s a heartfelt thank-you to a friend, a note of appreciation to a family member, or expressing gratitude to a colleague, these acts not only benefit the recipient but also contribute to our own sense of fulfillment and happiness.
And, in addition to the obvious social benefits, choosing and expressing gratitude also becomes a valuable personal habit.
The Easiest Way to Start a Gratitude Practice
Incorporating gratitude into your life doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or a list of yet more tasks.
It can be as simple as keeping a daily gratitude journal, where you jot down three things you’re thankful for each day. This practice encourages reflection on the positive aspects of your life, no matter how small, and reinforces a mindset of appreciation.
The act of physically writing those things down, rather than just a momentary acknowledgement, is really important.
If you had to pause reading this, what three things are you most grateful for right now?
Gratitude in Challenging Times
Practicing gratitude becomes even more important during challenging times. When faced with adversity, it’s all too easy to succumb to negativity and despair. But finding moments of gratitude, even in the midst of difficulties, can provide an unexpected source of strength and resilience. It doesn’t negate the challenges, but it shifts the focus to what can be learned or gained from those experiences.
In fact, many of the world’s greatest philosophies and religions emphasize the fact that we should regard adversity as an opportunity for growth rather than something to be avoided. By doing so, we become more resilient and happier as we learn from those experiences.
Remember the Little Things
Did your parents or a teacher ever tell you to “count your blessings”?
If so, it was great advice. Simply being mindful of the multitude of good things in our lives and savoring positive moments is a key to lasting happiness and serenity.
So, remember always to pause, reflect, and express gratitude for the countless blessings that surround you. In doing so, you’re opening the door to a healthier and more fulfilling mental state—one rooted in appreciation, contentment, and robustly good mental health.
We’re Grateful for You
At My Therapy ConnectionTM, we’re grateful for every single person who comes to us for therapy and counsel. Why? Because not only can we contribute to helping each individual live out their full potential, but we’re doing so in a spirit of deep empathy and the desire to do good to others.
And, as we continue to positively impact families and communities, we’re also reminded of just how much we have to be grateful for.
Get in Touch
If you, or a family member, are facing mental health challenges, please remember that help is always at hand.
We offer a free, no-obligation introductory chat, where you can ask questions, find out more about what we offer, and so we can discuss how best to meet your needs and assist you.
You’re invited to reach out, and contact us today.