It might feel weird to reflect on what you’re grateful for at a time like this, but using gratitude as a tool to change your perspective can be helpful.
There’s no denying that the current health pandemic is creating stress, anxiety and uncertainty for literally the whole world. So, if there’s something small you can do to give yourself a boost, it doesn’t hurt to try, right?
The benefits of practising gratitude
Keeping a gratitude journal isn’t a new concept, but it has gained popularity in the last few years. According to Dr. Kieran Kennedy, a medical doctor and psychiatry resident, this is probably down to the fact that research is starting to show the benefits of practising gratitude.
“In general, we know a lot more about how powerful gratitude is and I think this likely explains why we’ve seen a pick up in the awareness of this over the last few years,” he told TheLatch—.
“Scientifically and academically, we now know that gratitude is one of the strongest links to a sense of general contentment and wellbeing. Studies have been coming out thick and fast in recent years showing the benefits of practising gratitude and have a greater sense of gratitude overall can have for both our mental and physical health.”
The increase in popularity of gratitude could also have something to do with the increased awareness and use of meditation and mindfulness.
“Gratitude is also a big part to more traditional Eastern health philosophies, as well as meditation and mindfulness,” Dr. Kennedy said. “We’ve seen a big pick up of these practices in Western societies in recent years too.”
Dr. Kennedy, who has degrees in psychology, physiology and medicine/surgery, is particularly interested in the mental health benefits of practising gratitude.
“A daily consistent gratitude practice has been linked to greater feelings of contentment and happiness, lower anxiety levels, sleep and improvements in depression scores,” Dr. Kennedy said.
“Particularly during stressful times, or periods of major loss or disappointment, we know that focusing the mind in on what we have and what we’re grateful for can be powerful. Studies show daily gratitude practices can help bolster and strengthen people during these times.
“At a time like now, when the world is moving through a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, that’s super important.”
Gratitude journaling 101
According to Dr. Kennedy, there’s no right or wrong way when it comes to jotting down what you’re grateful for. It’s an extremely personal practice, so just go with how you feel when you put pen to paper.
“One of the biggest tips I tell people here is ensuring this is something you do consistently,” said Dr. Kennedy.
“Just like a balanced diet, regular exercise or good sleep – the real benefits here come down the track. Personally, I like to work gratitude journaling into my daily routine and that’s helped it become a habit. For me, it’s something I do at the end of the day as I’m winding down for bed — and it offers a great way to focus in on some of the things that went right, were positive and that I’m still grateful for, no matter how stressful or ‘bad’ a day might have been.”
Pick a time of day that works for you and pop a reminder in your phone that will alert you that it’s time to do some writing. And, start small. If you’re just beginning your gratitude journal, start by writing down one thing you’re grateful for and hopefully, more things will flow from there.
“Gratitude journaling isn’t about having to find major ‘wins’ or ‘achievements’, it’s about picking out things to be thankful for,” said Dr. Kennedy.
“This can be anything from being grateful for your health or body, a phone call with a friend or that you saw someone helping someone else on your ride to work.
“Studies generally show that noting down gratitude for things that don’t have external value (like achievements, money or materials) is often more powerful. But if little successes and achievements are something you’re thankful for that day, then, by all means, write it down!”
If you’re struggling with what to write, you could also try jotting down some of the good things that happened that day. And, you don’t need to write pages and pages in your journal.
“Bullet points are fine (and what I do), so don’t feel by ‘journal’ we mean writing out pages of stuff,” said Dr. Kennedy.
Start slow and see how you go
Keeping up a regular routine with journaling is most important if you want to reap the rewards. Taking time to reflect on your day, or just on life in general, every day or two will prove extremely helpful.
“Research shows that benefits from gratitude practices come when they’re done consistently and regularly — so don’t worry if you don’t suddenly feel enlightened and on top of the world after one round of journaling,” said Dr. Kennedy.
“I recommend people take even a few minutes every day when it comes to gratitude journaling. By doing it daily, we start locking in some of the mental benefits that then flow on to other areas of our health.
“Life can be messy, and hectic. So if we miss a day here or there, there’s no need to beat ourselves up or feel that the groundwork is lost. Pick things back up the next day or when you’re able.”
The current health crisis is evolving rapidly. If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.