There is a lot of scary news out there right now and I am fighting the impulse to read and respond to every single morsel of it. Our fragile human brains are designed to detect and respond to threat and so it makes sense that in this upheaval many of us are feeling stressed, anxious and focused on the “what ifs” of the future.
Because our brains are designed to encode the negative, we have to find ways to deliberately shift our focus towards the positive. A simple way to do this is by noticing what there is to be grateful for.
Gratitude journaling has been shown to improve mental and physical health and it's easy to do. Since the reality of long term physical isolation has hit me, I’ve been writing down three things I’m grateful for every night. Before I suggested this to other people, I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t too large a burden. Last night, I wrote down my three things in the journal I keep beside my bed -- it took me 90 seconds to finish the exercise. Before that I had spent 45 minutes on the internet, so to me 90 seconds seemed like nothing.
The Practice is Simple
1. Make space, every day, to reflect on the things you are grateful for.
2. Make a record of your gratitude, whatever way speaks to you -- write it, draw it, blog it -- include some formality to the practice in order to remind your brain that this is important.
A few caveats. You don’t need to feel grateful while you’re doing this. You don’t need to feel anything at all for it to potentially shift your mood. If you start writing down three things once a day (seriously, 90 seconds) you won’t necessarily feel better right away, but over time your brain might start to pick up on daily things that it was taking for granted.
You also don’t need to be particularly creative. Often, I fall back on basics of gratitude. I am thankful for the food I ate in the day, I give thanks to the people who grew the food, who transported to the store and put it on the shelves so I could buy it. It is these small things that sustain me and they can also be the easiest to overlook in times of stress.
Try this out over the next few weeks and see if it provides, even a brief, relief from stress and anxiety.
Tomorrow, I will write about practicing self compassion.