No better time for gratitude

Thanksgiving is in the air!  It conjures images of turkey, pumpkin pie, time with friends and family, and for me lots and lots of mashed potatoes (with lots and lots of butter).  However, this year I find myself reflecting a lot more on the “thanks” portion of Thanksgiving, especially given the chaos and uncertainty of 2020.  I am reminded of another very stressful time in my life with lots of emotions and stressors when a friend introduced me to the idea of a daily gratitude journal.  For 30 days I committed to writing down 3 things every day that I was grateful for.  No one read it but me, but I still vividly remember how much those 2-3 minutes per day impacted me.  My outlook improved, my emotions were reset, and I was more resilient to the stress around me. I have read through some of my entries years later, and I still get the emotional benefit.  As I have managed my own personal stressors this year, and helped my patients do the same, I want to share the tool that works so well for me.  I hope this can help provide some emotional relief as we enter into the colder darker months of winter while fighting a pandemic and dealing with a chaotic political and social arena.

The topic of gratitude has been researched extensively.  It has been shown to improve our physical health including decreasing pain, lowering blood pressure, and strengthening our immune system (that might be really handy in 2021).  Those who practice gratitude are happier.  They have less stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression.  Sleep improves, and they are more resilient.  A gratitude practice also just makes us “better people”.  We become more humble, kind, giving, optimistic, and less self-centered.  We have more self-esteem and are more likable by others.  At work we are more creative, productive, better decision makers, achieve more goals, and are better leaders. We have much better relationships when we bring more gratitude into our lives.  

While there are many different ways to bring gratitude in your life, a journal is my favorite. Here are some things to consider when trying one: 

  • Write down at least 3 things that you are grateful for in a given time period. Some like daily, some like weekly.  Research shows that weekly produces more consistent results as people tend not to get bored.  I liked doing it to start my day to get me in a good mindset.  I know others who love it right before bed as a way to calm them down and help them sleep better.  Pick one and try it, but feel free to modify if it isn’t working.  I would encourage you to document things that really evoke emotion (although sometimes humor can be effective). The emotional component is what provides the benefit.   Don’t just “go through the motions.”   Make it personal to get the most out of it.
  • Be original!  Think of different topics each time.  
  • Be as detailed as you can.  
  • Focus on people and intentions.
  • Consider the “small surprises” that present themselves during the day.  A kind gesture, a shared look, a call from or memory of an old friend, or a beautiful image.  

Dr. Heather Sieler is a physical therapist at Colorado In Motion


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