We all know what it is like to go through a tough week. Perhaps it involved some unhealthy eating habits, overspending, not doing the best on a work project, or not getting enough sleep to function properly. However, you’ve become dysregulated, whatever bad habits you need to change, or no matter what stressful situations you are facing, if you lack self-compassion, it’s easy to attack yourself rather than the problem. Blaming yourself further escalates the issues you are dealing with and creates guilt and shame. However, gratitude is a tool we can use to access self-compassion.
Gratitude is being thankful, ready to show appreciation and to return kindness. Gratitude is part of positive psychology, a branch of psychology that focuses on “what makes life worth living” (Ackerman, 2020). To use gratitude as a tool, you’ll need to express gratitude in a meaningful way. Focusing on events or things that mean something to you over the week instead of forcing out a list of five things you are thankful for each day has much more impact, according to Morton (2021). For example, you might be grateful for electricity, but if it wasn’t meaningful or connected to your day, it doesn’t help you access any benefits of gratitude. But, if a coworker bringing you a cup of coffee makes you think randomly of your bond with them and how much you appreciate them, that would be a meaningful experience that expresses genuine gratitude.
Benefits of Gratitude
There are many benefits from using gratitude exercises, but let’s focus on how gratitude can increase self-compassion. Remember, we want to increase self-compassion because it helps us to identify what is best for us while also being mindful and sympathetic of the circumstances involved in our situation. In short, self-compassion leads to making healthier choices about diet and exercise. If you missed the first blog in this series, check out why self-compassion is so essential (https://www.rediscoverhealthllc.com/post/intuitive-eating-needs-self-compassion ). Studies have shown a positive correlation, or connectedness, between self-compassion, coping, and gratitude (Brenner, 20218).
Gratitude exercises rewire the brain to focus on the good in a bad situation rather than turning to guilt (Brown and Wong, 2017). This study found actual brain changes in people who wrote gratitude letters. The participants who had written gratitude letters reported they felt less guilt when making decisions about giving money to a cause. This study shows that regularly practicing gratitude makes it possible to adopt that stance later under challenging situations giving us a more positive mindset. For example, if you face a stressful project at work, you can cope by finding things in the workplace that you are thankful for. Overcoming the stressful task is now processed as a challenging and satisfying experience that you can look back on with pride that may foster a connectedness to others in your workplace. This practice can build a natural resilience to compensate for negative experiences connected to something you care about (Brenner, 2018; Isik and Erguner-Tekinalp, 2017). Not incorporating gratitude into this situation may leave you with a negative view of your workplace, where you are constantly stressed, and your job is difficult.
Another reason gratitude helps with self-compassion and intuitive eating healthy changes in physical and mental regulation. People who practice gratitude tend to have better sleeping, eating, and social connection habits (Vivyan, 2021). People who view things with appreciation get proper sleep, have better eating habits such as not skipping meals or overindulging, and have good interpersonal relationships with healthy boundaries. These self-care routines provide a practical and strategic framework to practice self-love because it leaves you less vulnerable to impulsively acting when caring for your basic needs. When we are balanced, it helps us look at things from a different view and avoid the downward spiral that creates the negative self-talk we tend to have when things go wrong. Just think back on the last time you didn’t have enough sleep, skipped a meal or two, and then had to confront a stressful situation. We can all agree; it would be easier to handle stress when adequately rested, fed, and with social support. In this way, gratitude acts as a buffer for stress (Brenner, G, 2018).
Additionally, gratitude helps to decrease depression while increasing positive feelings,
leading to greater satisfaction overall (Isikk and Erguner-Tekinalp, 2017). Many use gratitude as an intervention for mental distress (Smyth, Johnson, Auer, Lehman, Talamo, and Sciamanna, 2018). Gratitude helps us keep our emotions in an elevated, happy place, making it harder for more negative emotions such as depression or anxiety to gain a foothold. When you begin to have stress, it will take longer to pull you down to the negative feelings the stress can create. Let’s go back to the stressful situation at work. If I have an attitude of being happy and grateful for your job, but then hit a week you are eating out more often and have some stress meeting your goals, you can stop thinking about what you are thankful for. Such thoughts could include commodore with your coworkers, the opportunities you have to do the things you want due to your work schedule or pay, or the goals you have accomplished. This change in thinking promotes good feelings even amid stress, providing the energy and mindset you need to get through the obstacles. In addition, it promotes being self-compassionate as you work through stressful situations so you can make good choices about caring for yourself.
Eventually, gratitude paired with self-compassion leads to self-appreciation, or the ability to see your goodness and celebrate it (Neff, 2021). How often do you actually accept the compliments given to you or take time to celebrate that you did a great job because you have many strengths? Most of us downplay what we did right. Self-appreciation encourages us to see just as much good in ourselves as others. When we express gratitude for our successes and attempts, we tend to have more self-compassion. We cultivate the three components of self-compassion (self-kindness, seeing our humanity, and mindfulness) when we use gratitude for ourselves (PositivePsychology.com, unknown). Once we can access self-compassion, we establish a balance between understanding all the aspects of a situation and what we need to do in response. When we find balance, we can mindfully handle a problem while being kind to ourselves.
Given all these benefits, here are some ways you can practice gratitude to begin building up this powerful tool.
Keep a journal of things you are truly grateful for and find meaningful. It can be a short list, or you might use an app. Some apps allow you to create a garden or add other graphics that can be visually and mentally appealing.
Spend time focusing on things that are meaningful to you in a meditation practice. Giving yourself time to reflect on these things helps you recall them more easily.
Write a letter of appreciation to a person you are grateful for, describing exactly why you are thankful for them.
Make a scrapbook or collage of things you are thankful for so you have a visual reminder.
Challenge yourself to catch yourself complimenting others or smiling through the day to draw attention to the meaningful things to you.
Write a letter to your “future” self when facing a difficult day.
Building up gratitude lays a solid foundation for self-compassion. In fact, your brain chemistry itself changes to open up a more balanced, positive perspective about not only the situations you may find yourself in but also about how you treat yourself in those situations. This new, optimistic view of daily life makes your actions and thoughts both mindful and intuitive as you lead with your heart. To find more self-compassion and gratitude activities for the month, be sure to check out the Rediscover Health Community Page on Facebook from December.
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