How to Thrive – Part 1 - Gratitude

In this series of blogs, I will be exploring themes that you can bring into your life to help you thrive and flourish.

We all lead busy lives and the pace of change seems to get ever faster, plus we are bombarded day and night with opportunities of things to do for entertainment and leisure. BUT does all this work?

  • How often do you feel weary just from trying to keep on top of your to-do list?
  • Have you lost the joy of just enjoying life because you are caught up in a cycle of doing?
  • Does endless e-mail, text, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media seem to be an ever-present call on your time?
  • How do you juggle the demands of work, family and leisure time?

Sometimes it feels like we never get a chance to switch off and relax. This can lead to a permanent feeling of anxiety and overwhelm which left unchecked can lead to physical signs of stress.

Anxiety and Overwhelm

Anxiety is caused by our bodies being in a constant state of alertness. We all have an inbuilt mechanism in our brains to detect threats and get ready to deal with them, this was very useful in the stone age when we needed to be ready in a moment to either fight off or run away from a threat such as a sabre tooth tiger coming to attack us. In the modern world, we generally have our basic needs met and do not need this flight or fight response. However, the amygdala which is situated in the primitive part of our brain still works by detecting threat and sending danger signals around the body. All the physical signs of anxiety come from our bodies being prepared to fight a perceived danger.

How do we get rid of this?

Adrenaline which is what the body produces in response to threats stays in the body for a long time. Through learning to regularly do things which calm us, and we enjoy, this takes our bodies from threat mode to reward mode and the release of dopamine. Dopamine is known as our feel-good hormone and is what makes us feel more positive about life.

One of the ways in which we can encourage activation of our reward response is to practice gratitude. This involves regularly looking for things which we can say thank you for or appreciate around us. It doesn’t matter how large or small the thing is we say we are thankful for, just the act of saying or writing these things down can make a huge difference. Our brains have an area within them known as the Reticular Activating System and by appreciating good things that happen to us or are around us, we are training our brains to seek out positive things happening in our world. 

It is easy to write down things we are grateful for or appreciate when we’ve had a good day, life is looking good and we are full of energy. Life is not always like this, and it can be hard after a difficult day when your train is late, your manager has shouted at you, the children are playing up and you’ve had an argument with your best friend, to find something to be grateful for. Finding one thing on days like this will soon start to make a difference.

People find many ways to introduce gratitude into their lives, here are some ideas:

  • In the evening, before you go to bed, write down up to three things you are grateful for from that day.
  • Keep a gratitude jar, write down something you are grateful for and put it in the jar.
  • Think of one thing you are grateful for when you are in the shower, first thing in the morning. This can set you up for looking at the positives throughout the day.
  • Have a time during dinner when everyone in the family takes a turn to say something good that has happened for them that day.

By starting small with one or two things that you notice and doing a little each day, you will start to notice within a week or two that it becomes easier and there is an abundance of things to be thankful for, even on a difficult day. When you notice things to be grateful for, it then becomes easier to handle difficult days and overcome challenges and you will find you are becoming more resilient to stress and anxiety.

What things are you thankful for today, and what steps can you take towards creating a regular gratitude practice?

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