Have you ever experienced that burst of joy when someone unexpectedly hands you a cup of coffee from your favorite coffee shop? Or that warm feeling when you find a forgotten ten-dollar bill in your jacket pocket? Gratitude has a way of turning ordinary moments into extraordinary ones, sprinkling a little joy into what sometimes feels like the daily grind. A bonus? You can also use gratitude for anxiety relief.
Pausing to acknowledge and appreciate the simple things can be a game-changer. In this blog I’ll outline why gratitude matters and some simple ways you can get started today.
What is gratitude for anxiety relief?
Let’s start with the basics. Gratitude is a state of being that usually involves two parts.
First, that you have achieved some type of positive outcome, and second, that the positive outcome came from some external force. In other words, gratitude involves acknowledging good fortune and recognizing that it didn’t come from us.
Accepting that the good things in our lives are the result (at least partially) of forces outside ourselves is thought to lead to connection to something larger—other people, nature, or a higher power of some kind.
It is the opposite of entitlement or thinking that we deserve an outcome or have a right to something. There might also be a sense of luck and humility involved.
Gratitude helps with anxiety relief in several ways. First, it helps you get some perspective. It can shift you away from self-focus and consider your experience in a big picture way. Second, it can help you to balance out your perspective. When we feel anxious and down, we tend to think of only the negative things in life. Third, as discussed more below, it can boost your positive feelings. When you experience warm feelings of appreciation, you’re more likely to explore and try out new things, combating the pull of anxiety to stay in your comfort zone. Our post on surprising ways to feel less anxious gives even more ideas for how to boost positive emotions.
Two types of gratitude
There are two main types of gratitude.
The first type is called “benefit-triggered gratitude,” which is the feeling of gratitude that arises in response to something specific. This could be when someone surprises you with a cup of coffee or when you unexpectedly find a dollar on the ground.
The second type is known as “general gratitude,” which refers to the overall feelings of appreciation for things in a broader sense. It includes gratitude for your family, as well as for the pleasant weather in your area. Both types of gratitude play an important role in our lives and can bring joy and positivity to our daily experiences.
Gratitude for anxiety relief
Research shows that boosting gratitude is one of the best things we can do for our mental well-being! Gratitude has been linked with feeling more positive emotions, the ability to savor pleasant experiences, coping more effectively with adversity, and building stronger relationships.
For example, one study showed that people who completed weekly online gratitude sessions for five weeks had significantly less repetitive negative thinking (like worry and rumination), depression, anxiety, and insomnia. These benefits were still significant at the end of the study three months later (Heckendorf et al., 2019.)
Starting a gratitude journal
One of the easiest ways to experience the benefits of gratitude for anxiety relief is to start a gratitude journal. The idea is simple. At the end of each day, reflect on at least three things you can be grateful for and why.
The “why” is really important. So, don’t just list off “cats, coffee, and tacos,” and be done with it!
Something like, “I’m grateful for my cat Ernie because he always runs to the door when I come in and gives me a warm welcome” really gets me to notice and appreciate what I love about Ernie!
Once you get started with this practice, you’ll notice a few things.
First, throughout the day you’ll start to think, “Oh, this would be a good thing to include in my gratitude journal.” When that happens, pull out your phone and take a photo. Or, keep a list in your planner. Whether or not you decide to record it, you’ll pay attention to these instances in a way you may not have before you started keeping the journal.
Second, you’ll start to notice more and more things to be grateful for! Gratitude leads to more positive emotions, and positive emotions expand our attention so that we see more. This expansion is also what facilitates anxiety relief.
Negative emotions narrow our attention so that we focus mostly on the negative thing. This makes sense because it’s important to figure out what might be a threat to our well-being. Imagine you’re walking through a dark alley and you hear a noise. Your attention will zoom in to that part of the alley. You won’t notice how your feet feel in your shoes or background music. You need all your resources to determine if you’re in danger.
Positive emotions, on the other hand, widen the scope of our attention so that we can take in more. Gratitude helps us notice what’s already going well in our lives.
I have a challenge for you! Each night this week, spend five minutes writing about at least three things you are grateful for.
Be sure to include the “why.” As you practice gratitude, you’ll accumulate more and more positive things for your journal.
If you’d like to work with one of our therapists on increasing your positive emotions, feel free to reach out and schedule a free consultation call here.