The Positive Effects of the Practice of Gratitude
The positive effects of practicing gratitude can quickly create a positive mindset and change how your brain works. Researchers found that when we think about someone or something we really appreciate, the feeling that goes with the thought stimulates the calming parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.
This pattern, when repeated, has a protective effect on the heart. When we practice bringing attention to what we appreciate in our lives, more positive emotions emerge. In this state, we enjoy a peaceful, calming effect and enhance our ability to remain calm. Gratitude is a conscious decision which allows us to gain a perspective by viewing a situation through an alternate lens.
It's difficult to feel grateful during cancer
It is difficult to feel grateful during cancer diagnosis or treatment. I remember feeling angry, anxious and worried during chemotherapy treatments. Looking back, I did appreciate my relationships with family and friends. I re-evaluated my priorities, set new goals, and experienced spiritual and personal growth.
Research on gratitude suggests that feelings of thankfulness have a positive value in helping patients cope with daily problems, become more optimistic, and help boost the immune system. When appreciating an experience our bodies are infused with chemicals of dopamine and serotonin, chemicals for feeling good. Tapping into these neurotransmitters helps put a stop to ruminating thoughts from the prior day or what anxieties the next day may bring.
As I reviewed this research, I began to understand the effect of gratitude on myself. Gratitude is not ignoring difficulties. Gratitude research suggests that feelings of thankfulness may have a positive value in helping patients cope with daily problems.
Dr. Robert Emmos, PhD has conducted multiple studies that link gratitude and wellbeing and confirms that gratitude increases happiness and lessens depression.1
The impact of practicing gratitude
The following have been reported with the frequent practice of gratitude:
- Improves physical health: Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier.
- Improves psychological health: Fewer toxic emotions ranging from envy to frustration and resentment.
- Improves sleep: Spending fifteen minutes jotting down a few grateful thoughts before bed can help you to sleep better.1
Simply focusing on all that you have rather than complain about all the things you think you deserve develops an attitude of gratitude. Conscious attention on one’s fortunate moments can help you access and retrieve pleasant memories. These grateful responses to life help build coping resources that can assist during stressful times.
Ways to practice gratitude
Here are a few ways that I have practiced gratitude throughout my experience with cancer.
- Begin writing about what you are grateful for: Include a list of benefits in your life, ask yourself, “To what extent do I take these for granted?”
- Reframe a situation by looking at it with a different, more positive attitude: This is not always easy and one that I struggle with.
- Say thank you1: I have mentally said thank you when I think about my day, and then either written a thank you note or made a plan to thank the person.
- 4 minutes of gratitude: During times of distress, reflect on feelings of gratitude. This too is effective. I have used during my scanxiety while awaiting annual CT scan results.2
- Find a gratitude reminder: Find something that you see frequently that redirects you to gratitude and happiness.2 I would think of a special picture of my granddaughter during difficult times.
- Gratitude letters2: I am an avid letter writer. Looking back, I realize now that writing these letters of gratitude have a positive effect on my mood.
Consistent use of these exercises can help make gratitude a part of your daily routine. The best part is that you can do it anywhere, at any time. It is never too late to start.
What type of blood cancer are you or your loved one diagnosed with?