Join me during December as I count down ten tips for practicing self-care during the stressful festive season.
Gratitude has been a bit of a buzzword lately, and really, it sounds pretty airy-fairy – could something so simple really do much? Well, we actually do have mounting evidence that regular gratitude practice leads to many improved health outcomes, including increased optimism and happiness, decreased blood pressure, better sleep, improved relationships, and reduced depression and anxiety.
Our brain is very good at noticing and focusing on difficulties, which is in many ways a helpful thing. In fact, it’s by noticing and dwelling upon challenges that enables us to solve seemingly-insurmountable problems, and as the human race advances, to achieve amazing things like exploring the universe or creating nanotechnology. However, most of us dwell upon and ruminate over difficulties too much, to the detriment of noticing and enjoying the positive aspects of our lives.
Some of you may naturally find yourself noticing the positives, and this is probably reaping benefits for you! Perhaps those who know you well say you are an optimist, or that you always know how to find the bright side of things. For many people, however, it requires deliberate gratitude exercises to shift entrenched thought patterns. These exercises then must be repeated frequently to strengthen those new neural pathways, so that we more easily notice and feel appreciative about positive things in our lives.
Gratitude exercises can be as simple as keeping a notebook by your bed, and jotting down three things you’re grateful for at the end of each day. You may get even more benefit from keeping a gratitude journal, and even just a couple of times a week, writing in more depth about something you feel grateful for, being as specific as possible. An interesting study found that gratitude letters improved mental health amongst students seeking counselling for issues such as depression and anxiety. Researchers discovered increased activity in the prefrontal cortex in functional MRIs months after the gratitude exercises, suggesting that when these participants donated money to charity they had more feelings of gratitude rather than guilt.
Gratitude exercises may feel a little forced at first. Perhaps you write the words, but it feels a bit mechanical, and you don’t actually feel grateful. Don’t be discouraged and give up too soon. Keep it going consistently for at least a month, and you will find the feelings will follow!
Over the next few days, I will be sharing more tips to reduce stress and improve wellbeing over the festive season. If you missed the last post about creating and maintaining positive relationships, you can find it here. To make sure you don’t miss the rest, you can follow me on Facebook, sign up for my emails, join my Facebook group, or simply check back in on my website!