Being Grateful

Posted by Candace Cable in Life After Paralysis on August 10, 2016

Strong feelings and emotions, felt often enough, will make lasting pathways in our brains and bodies. No matter if the feelings and emotions are negative or positive, they ultimately affect every part of our being and that includes how we perceive our world and our physical health. Just like learning any skill and it is a skill to identify strong feelings and emotions before they trigger us into run away behavior, we can direct them with intentional, daily practice.

I’ve been living in Los Angeles for six months and beside the sunshine, the one constant is vehicle traffic on all roads, all hours of the day and night. At first I bought into the idea, my sister says she has this, traffic denial. Traffic denial is pretending that there won’t be any traffic (traffic is defined as slow moving, say 5-10 mph) in the direction I’m traveling. This just led me from feelings of moderate to extreme frustration because I was sitting in traffic I had denied would be on the road and now I was going to be late to my destination.

Then I decided to look forward to my time in traffic so that I could listen to the radio without interruptions. But even that didn’t fully calm down my frustration emotions and feelings. So I started a practice of speaking aloud, all the things, people, feelings and thoughts in my life or future or past life that I am grateful for when I am sitting in slow moving traffic. And this practice, coupled with my evening gratitude practice is working to put me in a chill space while driving in LA. Mind you, I am also leaving much earlier for my appointments, but these two combined practices are changing the way I feel when I’m in traffic.

The research is saying that these feelings, appreciation and gratitude, can become a coping device when consistently practiced, that will, and the word is WILL, lead to physical, mental and spiritual heartiness. Because there are real cascading chemical reactions that happen in our brains and bodies when we express appreciation, gratitude and kindness. These chemicals generate real physical feeling of fullness, abundance and joy improving our physical and mental health.

So what are these chemicals and how does expressing appreciation and gratitude make lasting positive pathways in our brains and bodies? Well, it all begins in our brains with the hypothalamus, the control center of our endocrine, autonomic and behavioral functions. Communication from the hypothalamus in the brain to the body occurs when one nerve cell communicates at a synapses or junction.

The word synapses is from the word synaptein derived from the two Greek words syn –together and haptein-to clasp. Electrical or chemical communication from one cell to another requires a secretion of a substance into that synaptic space to make the connection and this substance is called a neurotransmitter. There are two kinds of neurotransmitters, inhibitory and excitatory. Our focus here is on the inhibitory neurotransmitters that help create balance, connection, bonding, calmness, and feelings of happiness, peace, love and understanding.

Two of the many inhibitory neurotransmitters and hormones we want free flowing through our synapses and blood stream are serotonin and oxytocin. Serotonin is all about well-being, a sense of accomplishment and happiness. It also helps to regulate moods, temper, anxiety, and depression. It can help as a natural sleep aid and plays an important role in regulating such things as aggression, appetite, sexuality, body temperature and metabolism. Oxytocin is all about creating emotions of love and connection and the strongest triggers for this neurotransmitter are touch and thought. It also helps regulate feelings of separation and unworthiness.

We keep the above neurotransmitters flowing by eating clean and natural food, exercising, being in sunshine and thoughts of appreciation, gratitude and thankfulness. Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted by stress, negative thoughts, poor diet, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition, drug (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine usage and a lack of inhibitory neurotransmitters can lead to depression.

The way to really ramp up our inhibitory neurotransmitters is to create a daily practice of gratitude and appreciation. Each night, before bed, write down three things I am grateful for or that gave me joy during my day. Writing down, rather then only saying the words, creates deeper pathways that we can rely on in times of stress. It’s a simple practice, but it’s not easy. I say it’s not easy because we have to believe that this practice is making a difference to keep the practice going.

I lose my way sometimes; I don’t practice my practice. At times, I get so tired at night that I only think to sleep and nothing else. In the morning, when I wake, I remember my practice; I write what I didn’t write the night before and go on with my day, without judgment and with compassion for my forgetting.

This is the way we build our neurotransmitters and a practice of thoughts and feelings of appreciation and gratitude, with kindness, compassion and forgiveness for ourselves when we slip. Little by little we will begin to be on auto-pilot and start to give gratitude for things we never imagined we could be grateful for. Take the time to read this story.

Then without noticing we are consciously and unconsciously we begin to give appreciation and gratitude away.

Cheers!