Living with anxiety, we live in our minds, caught up in endless loops of worry, negative thinking, and ruminating. It becomes the lens through which we view the world, a lens through which we are unable to fully appreciate the joy and beauty of life. Over time this can lead to disenchantment and a developing sense of being in the world but somehow standing slightly apart from it at the same time. If left unchecked, this can develop into a growing sense of isolation.
Gratitude can change these feelings as it is an emotion that comes from the heart. When we practice gratitude we notice the good things in our life and as we do this we engage with the present moment rather than focusing on reflecting on the past or on our concerns about the future.
In this way, it serves to counter our natural negativity bias which is our tendency to focus more on negative experiences than those that are positive or neutral. From an evolutionary perspective the value of this bias is clear, it helps us to risk assess more efficiently, for example avoiding the location where we previously encountered a bear. In today’s world, where these ongoing and immediate threats to survival have disappeared, the bias remains, resulting in our brains being more heavily influenced by negative experiences affecting our thoughts, behaviour and emotions.
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of California, refers to gratitude as “good medicine”, a conclusion that is well supported by research.
As we practise gratitude we learn to be kinder and more understanding towards ourselves and others, leading to greater empathy within our relationships and higher self-esteem.
Our connection to the outside world is strengthened and feelings of isolation reduce.
By switching focus from anxious thoughts to positive appreciation we begin to dissolve the loops of anxious thoughts that we experienced as all consuming.
Practised regularly, we can then start to rebuild the neural pathways within our brains which increases our ability to manage stress and boosts the immune system.
As our resilience to stress increases, the quality of sleep is also improved.
Through repeatedly practising gratitude, positivity can become a way of life, changing the way in which we perceive our experiences each day.
That’s something we can all be grateful for.
Making it happen
Perhaps the most important consideration before beginning is to decide how often you will be able to successfully incorporate the practice of gratitude into your daily life. You may find it easier to decide on a specific time and place for your practice. Just now I practise each morning before breakfast and find it sets me up in a very positive way for the day ahead.
Where to begin
There are a host of different ideas and approaches but here are a few simple suggestions for you to try.
- Take 5 minutes each day to write down 5 people, places or experiences that you are grateful for.
- Choose a jar that can hold a year’s worth of gratitude!
- Write 3 entries daily on a small piece of paper and post it inside.
- At the end of the year, empty the jar, read, reflect, and celebrate.
- Write to someone you feel gratitude towards, telling them of your appreciation and the reasons why.
- Choose a small stone to carry with you each day. As you put it in your pocket each morning, think of all that you are grateful for. During the day, each time you touch it in your pocket you can think of one thing that you are grateful for, or alternatively, you may choose to leave it on your desk or table and decide that every time you see it you will pick it up and pause to be grateful once more. At the end of the day, having carried it home, you can repeat the morning reflection.
My favourite is the gratitude diary. I have been surprised to find how effortlessly my list has grown over time and how much more aware I have become of the positive experiences that arise within my day, often noting to myself when something happens “well, that’s going on today’s list”.
If you would like support to help manage your anxiety more effectively, please contact me or call me on 07516 521199 for an informal chat. Through hypnotherapy I can support you to reframe your thoughts and beliefs and help you to develop a more positive mindset that will empower you to move forward with increased confidence, focus and positivity.