​How Gratitude Can Help Us Through Tough Times

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on November 25, 2020 # Health, Lifestyle

By guest blogger Lauren Presutti

Traumatic accidents and illnesses are bound to challenge one’s understanding of the world and themselves. These unexpected turning points where lives are completely turned upside down are likely to bring difficult questions to mind. Why did this happen? How can this be a reality? How will I ever cope with this? These questions weigh heavily – on both individuals diagnosed with paralysis and their loved ones – and some may feel like there is very little to feel positive about. Understandably, it may take time, patience, self-compassion, a period of grieving, and numerous ups and downs through the recovery process to feel like practicing gratitude is attainable.women in front of stairs

As a psychotherapist, I want to acknowledge the emotional pain and anguish that accompanies paralysis, but I also want to share insight on the mental health benefits of expressing gratefulness. People who practice gratitude are usually more likely to adapt, use effective coping skills, and realize the hidden strengths they have inside of them when faced with difficult life circumstances. They are also more likely to experience higher levels of perceived social support and lower levels of stress and depression. Further, individuals practicing gratitude are more likely to engage in self-reflection, meaning they spend more time thinking deeply about their values, relationships, experiences, and feelings. Spending more time reflecting on one’s experiences usually allows people to slow down and notice the positives in life that they may have been overlooking. This can serve as a major protective factor against stress and depression.

Building your capacity for gratitude might take practice, but the more you can bring attention to the things for which you feel grateful, the easier it may be for you to lean into this healthy habit. Below are some strategies for practicing gratitude that you may find helpful, especially as we head into the holiday season.

Keep a Gratitude Journal. Sometimes it can be helpful to keep an ongoing list of the things that bring us joy. Our lives are often so busy with distractions, and we move from one thing to the next without slowing down. It can be helpful to slow down and practice mindfulness by remembering that even a small exchange with a friend, a delicious meal, or a warm fireplace can be opportunities to feel grateful. Make a list of these moments in your journal on a daily basis. Even if you can only think of one gratitude moment each day, use that one daily practice as a starting point. Gratitude is never a competition. There is no need to worry about your gratitude journal is different from the journaling of others.

Remember Your Past. To be grateful for where we are today, we must remember our past. It can be helpful to spend time reflecting on the challenges that we have persevered through. Have you ever wondered how did I get through a painful experience from the past? For those with trauma, this is especially relevant. It was because of your inner resiliency, strength, skills, and personal attributes that moved you forward from previous hard times. Acknowledge how far you have come. Celebrate your triumphs.

Share Your Gratitude with Others. Expressing gratefulness can bring people closer together. Family and friends can help you foster your appreciation and can support you if you struggle with this practice. Sharing a commitment to gratitude with others may also open your eyes to another person’s perspective, allowing you to understand gratefulness in a new light. Spend some time asking the people closest to you what they feel most grateful for. You may also want to write letters to important people in your life to let them know what you appreciate most about them.

Remember, there are multiple paths to gratitude. Some days you may find it easier than others. That’s okay. Remind yourself that you are only human, and we all have days where expressing gratitude feels challenging. Allow yourself permission to ebb and flow through this practice. If you’re feeling stuck on a bad day or find yourself struggling with mental health symptoms, the following questions might be helpful to refocus and refuel yourself with gratitude:

Today might feel difficult, but what is one small thing I can feel grateful for? A loved one at home with me? Snacks in the cupboard? Comfortable clothing? A cozy blanket? A working television? Art supplies? My journal for writing? A great healthcare team?

Today might feel difficult, but what inner resources do I have that I feel grateful for? My sense of humor? My compassion for others? My strength? My curiosity? My good taste in music? My attention to details? My ability to problem-solve? My creativity?

Today might feel difficult, but what experience from the past week can I feel grateful for? When I had lunch with a friend? When I got to sleep in on the weekend? When the weather was nice outside? When I took my dog to the park? When I worked on that scrapbook? When I visited my niece?

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.