The prolonged stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic has many people feeling more anxious or depressed. The practice of daily gratitude is a simple and powerful way to improve optimism, build resilience, reduce stress levels, and improve overall mental and physical health and well-being. Gratitude is the practice of taking time to notice, reflect on and be thankful for what is valuable and meaningful in your life.
Benefits of a gratitude practice
The mental and physical health benefits of practicing gratitude are extensive. Regularly practicing gratitude has these benefits:
- Better sleep and increased metabolism. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. People who show more gratitude overall are shown to have higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, eating, drinking and sleeping, according to the National Institute of Health. Gratitude has a significant influence on your metabolism and stress levels.
- Improved immune system. The practice of gratitude can also improve immune function, according to the American Heart Association – a critically important health element during COVID-19.
- Reduced stress and risk of mental health challenges. Focusing on positive emotions can help improve your ability to cope with stress. Studies by leading gratitude researcher Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. confirm that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
Ideas for starting a gratitude practice
- Daily journaling and reflection. Developing a consistent journaling/reflection practice helps us process our feelings, strengthen our energy, see different perspectives, celebrate our successes, better understand our strengths and identify barriers to success. Physiologically, noting our emotions decreases activity in the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for strong emotions like anger, fear and sadness). Expressing gratitude in written form can lead to a more positive attitude during stressful times. Learn more about starting a journal here.
- Deliberate acts of kindness and volunteering. Gratitude is also strengthened by helping others. Helping others directs our focus away from ourselves and onto concrete, solvable actions. It boosts our relationships and friendships, relieves anxiety and provides a feeling of purpose.