Gratitude as a Stress-Fighting Superpower

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Most of us know we should remain thankful for the many positives in our lives every month, week and day of the year, but it seems to come into focus more than ever at this time of year.

But for even the most grateful of us, it can be easy to lose perspective at times. The daily demands of life, and the occasional disappointments that come with it, can manifest as stress. And where stress grows, feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and dissatisfaction can creep into the space that gratitude should occupy. At times, stress is a real and inevitable part of life, and we have to take measures to reduce it where we can, but at other times, we’re perceiving something as a stressful situation, when we really only need to shift our perspective.

These are the times when it’s most important to consciously redirect our focus to noticing and expressing gratitude for all the good in our lives. Perspective plays a huge role in our mental and emotional wellbeing, but also our physical health, as continued stress raise our levels of cortisol, affecting our waistlines, inflammation and even immune systems.

The Science of “Thanks”

Research shows that people who report high levels of gratitude don’t live in a world of denial. They don’t ignore the problems in their life, but they’re able to detach from a stressful period by savoring a positive experience. Basically, it’s hard to think of two opposing things at the same time.

In a study called the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness by Dr. Robert Emmons (a Dr. of Thankfulness, how cool is that!) found that grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and, yes, STRESS. People who regularly expressed gratitude were also more likely to make progress toward their personal goals than those who didn’t. And the grateful group of respondents rated higher in their ability to be empathic, or to put themselves in others’ shoes, among a slew of other benefits.

It’s encouraging to know that this area, which is so important to our mental and emotional health, but can be overlooked by the mainstream medical research industry, is getting the attention and funding it deserves.

Four ways to pave your path away from stress to contentment with gratitude

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Dedicate a notebook to listing very specific things your grateful for and make a goal to write things that you’re grateful for at least four days a week. This is one of the most effective ways to keep our focus on being grateful. Plus, it’s fun to go back and revisit all of the happy memories years later. Here are some great ideas on how to create your gratitude journal.

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  • Write a thank-you note. Try to write and send at least one thank-you note a month. Expressing our gratitude, not just in private, but also through words to another person delivers a guaranteed hit of happiness to both the deliverer and the receiver. This is also a great way to nurture our relationships with the people we value most. Don’t forget to write one to yourself every once in a while!
  • Be patient with yourself if you slip into old thought/ stress patterns. Just like any old habit, it takes time and a conscious effort to make lasting change. It’s not always a linear process, what counts is about catching ourselves and redirecting our focus to thankfulness. Just like we reshape our bodies through repetition at The Bar Method, we can flex the “gratitude muscle” in our brain, changing the way it functions for the long-term.
  • Take time in class to give thanks. At the end of each class at The Bar Method, we take a moment of reverence. Use this time to thank yourself for restoring your mind and body. Maybe express mental gratitude for a particular person in your life or just sit in stillness, as you identify that feeling of gratitude in your heart center. Imagine that joyful feeling expanding with each breath, as it fills the space where resentment and stress once existed. Now, carry that spirit of thanks as you tackle any challenge that comes your way.

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