Practicing Gratitude to Manage Stress

We find ourselves in a situation which is likely causing most of us more stress than normal. While we are unable to change the circumstances which surround us, there are things we can do to better cope.

Practicing Gratitude to Manage Stress
By Terri Allred

Gratitude isn’t just a daily practice for me, it is a lifestyle and most recently during physical isolation, a life-line. It is one of the important ways that I manage daily and acute stress. Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean I am oblivious to the tough stuff, it just means I cultivate intentional attention to the good stuff too.  Everyone can practice gratitude; in fact, adding gratitude to your daily interactions with children can dramatically improve their ability to manage stress as well.  

The scientific benefits of practicing gratitude are thoroughly researched and well-documented. Simply Google “science of gratitude” and read study after study proving it. Practicing gratitude helps you maintain a positive mood and achieve greater emotional well-being. It reduces stress and anxiety and results in higher overall life satisfaction. People who practice gratitude strengthen social and work relationships. Physically, gratitude lowers blood pressure, strengthens your immune system and helps you sleep.  

Why Gratitude Works

Practicing gratitude works for a few reasons. First, it distracts you and allows you to detach from a stressful situation or period in your life. Particularly when you find yourself perseverating on things you can’t change, switching mental channels to focus on gratitude will give your mind and body a desperately needed break. Of course, there are many ways to distract yourself. Why not just read a good novel or binge-watch Netflix? Because unlike a mystery novel, gratitude makes you feel better about yourself, puts things in perspective, and when expressed, enhances relationships. It is a powerful tool to combat sadness, frustration, and hopelessness. Second, gratitude puts your focus on relationships which helps to strengthen social connections. Third, it helps us hold on to the positive emotions and practice basking in those as opposed to the negative ones that often claim so much space and energy during times of stress.

Here are 5 ways you can begin a gratitude practice today.

  1. Communicate gratitude to friends and family. Whether you send a text, draft an email or make a phone call, take a moment every day to tell 3 people that you appreciate them.  
  2. Start a gratitude journal. Write down three things that you are grateful for each night before going to bed.  They can be little things or big things. Try to focus on experiences rather than objects and identify something new to be grateful for each day.
  3. Create a reverse bucket list. Write down all of the things you have already accomplished. Think about all of the things you have done in your life. What have you accomplished that you are the most proud of? Where have you traveled? Are there organizations to which you have donated time or money? What about birthing a child, surviving a heartbreak, earning a degree? There are all kinds of things you can identify once you start reflecting. The purpose is to feel grateful for all you have done and experienced rather than focusing on all you haven’t achieved. Spend some time reflecting on your list and feeling grateful.
  4. Turbo charge your gratitude practice. Savor and appreciate things you normally take for granted. Think about what inspires awe in you… a beautiful sunset, a towering tree, the laugh of an infant, the kindness of strangers… experiencing awe is a turbo charged way of savoring and appreciating.
  5. Create affirmations to share your gratitude. Our thoughts really do create energy. You can share your positive energy with others in the form of affirmations. Picture a series of people and send them good vibes. Start with yourself. You can say these words, or decide on your own words: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease.

As with any new habit, practicing gratitude will take some time before it will become automatic. What are you grateful for today? We hope you will share with the Rochester Women Magazine community on our Facebook page.

Terri Allred is the Greater MN and SE Regional Coordinator for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. She pulls from her 30 year experience working in the field of sexual and domestic violence to share stress management and resiliency tips. She lives in Rochester with her family and dog, Phoebe.