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Gratitude and your health

Practicing gratitude during the COVID-19 pandemic can be good for both your physical and mental health.

Being grateful has an uplifting, dilating effect on the body, says Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. It’s the opposite of being in a state of constriction.

“When we are grateful, our physiology relaxes,” says Buttimer. “It would be similar to playing a game of tug of war. You’re trying to pull a person across, but when you let go, you feel a release of tension.”

A thankful attitude can also increase certain “feel-good” neurochemicals in the body.

“If you do something kind for someone or find yourself in a state of gratitude, you may have an immediate good feeling, which is produced by a chemical called oxytocin,” says Buttimer. “And as you practice this more, you begin to increase the serotonin levels in your brain, which has an antidepressant effect on the body. And you’re going to feel better.”

How to cultivate gratitude

Choosing to be grateful isn’t always easy. In fact, Buttimer says it takes practice.

“For some reason, our brains are wired to identify what’s wrong,” he says. “There are some studies that show seven out of 10 thoughts in the morning are negative. You really have to work on seeing what’s right around you and not what’s wrong.”

To cultivate a grateful spirit, Buttimer suggests trying the following:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Consider writing down what went well that day or the little things that made your day better, such as a great cup of coffee or eating breakfast with your kids.

  • Be mindful in the moment. Whenever you start to feel stress and anxiety, take a pause and think about what you're grateful for at that moment. For example, perhaps working from home is stressful, but you are grateful to have a laptop and healthy food to eat for lunch.

  • Write down or say three things a day that make you grateful. Shawn Achor, one of the world’s leading experts in positive psychology, suggests trying to rewire your brain by writing down or stating three things that you are grateful for every day for 21 days. You can write it in a journal, say it as a prayer or say it out loud.

  • Come up with a list of 50 things you are grateful for in 10 minutes. To really shift your mood, Buttimer suggests coming up with a list of 50 things you are grateful for in 10 minutes. Once you start writing, you may find it easy to come up with dozens of reasons to be thankful.

Check out more helpful, healthful tips from Living Better.

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