Attitude of Gratitude: Adding Gratitude to Your Mental Health Toolbox

Attitude of Gratitude: Adding Gratitude to Your Mental Health ToolboxAs we prepare for feasting with friends and family this month, the concept of gratitude is at the forefronts of our minds. Our kids bring home hand turkeys, scrawled with things they are thankful for and some families share what they’re grateful for over Thanksgiving dinner. As we move into the Thanksgiving season, there is often more intention in practicing gratitude.

But what if it wasn’t only a once a year activity, but a lifestyle shift to help quell anxiety?  

The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” I often explain anxiety to clients as “a worried thought that begins to spiral.” Stress and worry are normal responses to the everyday frustrations and challenges of life, but when that stress or worry starts to send our mind spinning into potential future catastrophes, we know we’ve wandered too far. 

In the therapy world, one of the tools we use in managing anxiety are called thought-stopping techniques. The idea is that when we become more aware of our anxiety triggers or even just more aware that we are having anxious thoughts, we are able to stop ourselves and intentionally focus on a more positive way of thinking. The goal is to become more aware and then to stop long enough to change how we think and gradually begin to stop these spirals earlier and earlier. Once we become aware of an anxious thought and our desire to stop it, we need to replace that negative thought with a positive one. 

Attitude of Gratitude: Adding Gratitude to Your Mental Health Toolbox

I’ve found that gratitude can be used as an intentional way to stop our anxious thoughts and retrain our brains. As soon as you notice an anxious thought, you can stop, take a deep breath and list a few things you are thankful for in that moment. This small practice of gratitude not only stops the anxious thought trail, but it has a way of giving you perspective and lifting your spirits. 

Consider this example. Let’s say something stressful happens at work and you become worried. Your heart starts racing and your face flushes. Before you know it, the worry shifts from just the actual circumstance and moment to the future and you find yourself asking questions like “What if that person no longer respects me? What if I lose my job? What if…” As soon as you notice you’ve begun going down the “what if” spiral, intentionally stop yourself and take a deep breath. Then choose to think about something you are grateful for about your job. It could be “Today I am grateful that I have a job” or “Today I am grateful that my job gives me flexibility to balance responsibilities at home.” This simple statement gives you the ability to take a step back and take control of your thoughts once again. 

Attitude of Gratitude: Adding Gratitude to Your Mental Health ToolboxGratitude isn’t always easy. In fact, it can seem trite to tell someone to “just be grateful” when they are in the midst of serious anxiety. I’d gently remind you that gratitude really is a practice, it often requires us to discipline our minds to acknowledge what we do have in our lives right now even when things seem hard or impossible. There can be times that gratitude just flows out of us as a natural response to something in our lives, but often it requires intentionality to see it in the ups and downs of life. And as with most things in life, the more we practice it, the more easily it comes. 

So I’d challenge you to start noticing patterns in your anxious thoughts. What (or who) seems to trigger them? Where do your spirals lead you to? As you become more aware, try to be intentional about stopping that thought and replacing it with something you are grateful for. Gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving but really can be a part of your mental health toolbox all year long.


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