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Gratitude is a Practice

It’s been a trying few years and, with that, it can be difficult for many to feel very thankful. However, it’s during trying times that practicing gratitude, and trying to see challenges through a more positive lens, may be even more beneficial to our health.

One of the most transformational realizations we can have in our lives is that stress is a subjective experience. Although there are certain life events that are objectively more stressful and difficult as viewed through a social lens, we can look at our personal experience with stress as 10% what happens to us and 90% how we choose to react to it. I know this is easier said than done. Trust me, I’ve struggled with this too, but the more we choose a negative, stress-induced reaction, the more we activate our sympathetic nervous system. This is our fight or flight response that keeps us in a state of stress and dis-ease. Instead, we can train our dominant perspective in life by how we choose to react to everyday, normal events. This choosing to focus on positive, uplifting, supportive aspects of our everyday lives, will help us choose a more empowering response to major, unexpected events too.

In order to choose a healthier response to all that life throws our way, we can learn to instinctively insert a pause between events and our reactions. When we create this gap, we are able to choose to respond in ways that are helpful vs. reacting immediately and mindlessly in ways that promote stress - and its damaging effects - in our bodies. One mindfulness practice that can with this is gratitude journaling. In just a few minutes each day, we can purposefully focus our thoughts on what we appreciate and celebrate, and therefore train our brain to look for and focus on this perspective more often. Such practice has been shown to lower stress hormones, increase endorphins, cause less oxidative damage to the brain, and promote long-term cognitive function.

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to remember and focus on what we are thankful for. This year, keep the practice going beyond the holiday and see how your overall stress and perspective changes by the new year.

Here are a few tips to get started:

Choose your timing. Do you want to journal first thing in the morning after you wake up, last thing at night before you go to bed, during a lunch break? Pick a time and try to stick to it daily.

Choose your journal. Put the device away for this one. Select a nice hard-copy journal or simple notebook and grab your favorite pen.

Now, start practicing. Write down one very specific thing - a person, pet, mindset, event, tool, opportunity – that you are grateful for in this moment. Next, list five detailed reasons why you are grateful for it. Be specific and vivid. Include enough detail words to evoke positive emotions about it. You can stop at one thing or continue with more, if you feel inspired.

You can do this! The goal is to thoroughly experience gratitude for at least one thing every single day.

You only need 8-10 minutes daily, but don’t skimp on how you do this. Writing it down and diving into the detail is critical. Prioritize this habit and do it every day in order to change your habitual stress response and reap significant long-term health benefits.

Brooke Lam, mother of two, is a Functional Medicine Health Coach with Keeping Families Well, empowering families to get to the root cause of chronic health issues and to attain optimal health and wellness goals.

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