What are you grateful for?
We have just celebrated Thanksgiving here in Canada and it got me thinking about gratitude and why we are often encouraged to be grateful as a part of our wellness or selfcare. It turns out that feeling and expressing gratitude actually impacts your health in a measurable way.
One study used functional MRI imaging to show how gratitude works in the brain. When you feel grateful for someone or something, you stimulate parts of the prefrontal cortex in the brain. These are also the same parts that modulate stress and pain. When you are feeling grateful, you can interrupt the pain/stress response in the brain which stops the triggering of the stress response in the body. The more you practice feeling and expressing gratitude, the more you are training your brain to stay in a relaxation response which is so much better for your body, health and wellbeing.
Just like any activity that you want to master or any habit you want to change, you must build your gratitude muscle! This takes practice but I think it might be easier than lifting 20 kg weights at the gym or giving up ice cream. A gratitude practice can be as simple as finding one thing to be grateful for everyday (make it a different thing everyday, though!) and giving yourself a moment to feel the gratitude in your body.
Give it a try right now….think about something you are grateful for. Fuzzy kittens, warm sweater, a job that pays the bills, your favorite music, a tree in autumn colors, a smile from a stranger when you really needed one…. Now close your eyes and really focus on what you are grateful for and let the feeling spread through your body. Do this for at least 5 full breaths.
Open your eyes and notice what your body feels like now. When I do this practice, my shoulders relax, my breathing gets deeper, my belly softens and I often start smiling. These responses are a result of the brain switching from stress/pain to relaxation. And when you can practice every day, it gets easier and easier for your brain/body to switch to relaxation and away from stress.
Now what about days when you feel like there is nothing to be grateful for, you may be thinking? There is no doubt that days with challenge, loss, bad news, grief, etc., can test your practice of gratitude and that is precisely why it’s called a practice. Practicing daily during the good times will build a reserve that you can draw on during the bad times and knowing what you now know about gratitude interrupting pain and stress, you reach for gratitude when you need a break from the pain. Not easy to do but definitely worth the effort.
Let me end by telling you how grateful I am that you are in my community of readers. I appreciate that you read my newsletters and I’m always grateful for your feedback and comments about what I share each month. You are very important to me and I am grateful that you allow me into your email box!