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How giving thanks can improve your health and wellbeing

by Laura Palmer

Today marks Thanksgiving in the US, but did you know that feeling grateful is something you should be doing all year round? Whatever side of the pond you live on, it’s always good to take a step back and count the things you’re thankful for. Why? Because not only is thankfulness and gratitude good for the soul, it can also bring huge benefits to your health and wellbeing too.

The last couple of years have been tough on everyone, with Covid-19 chaos on top of the stresses and strains of everyday life. It’s easy to get caught up in a perpetual state of worry and stress, and let negative emotions like fear, anger and sadness dominate. Once you’re in this behaviour pattern, both physical and mental health can suffer. But the good news is, something as simple as focusing on things you’re grateful for, for just a few minutes each day, can help you break the cycle.

How can gratitude improve your health and wellbeing?

Taking a moment to think about what you’re thankful for, is likely to give you an immediate lift and sense of calm. Want to know why? Neuroscientific research from experts like Dr Joe Dispenza, suggests that reflecting on the positives in life can actually help to rewire your brain. In fact, many neuroscientists believe that feeling gratitude can move you from the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) to the parasympathetic (growth and repair) nervous system.

If you’ve been feeling stressed out, you’ve probably been living in the ‘fight or flight’ nervous system for a while. In this constant ‘alert’ mode you’ll feel anxious and nervy, blood will be leaving your digestive organs and going to the extremities. Your heart and respiratory rate are likely to be high. Switch yourself over to the parasympathetic nervous system, and you’ll immediately feel calmer. Your heart and pulse rate will slow, and blood will return to your digestive system. How cool is that?!

This shift puts you in a much better place, mentally and physically. You’ll feel more present, and able to heal and focus on what’s important to you in life.

Want to get started?

Here are some super simple ways to harness and cultivate gratitude that anyone can try. Plus, the health and wellbeing benefits of feeling thankful, as an extra incentive to get grateful:

1. Say it loud:

At bedtime each night, try saying out loud three positive things that happened in your day. It could be anything: “My work presentation went better than I thought.” “I signed a petition about something I care about.”“My kids didn’t whack each other on the school run.” It’s the little things, right? Start small and build up. Once you start looking, you’re sure to find some positives, even on those ‘I can’t even’ days.

Finding the good in each day is a great start in reducing your anxiety and stress levels. Studies have also shown that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report better quality health and wellbeing overall. They’re more likely to engage in cardiovascular exercise. And less prone to use junk food or alcohol as a comfort. Go gratitude!

2. Keep a journal for your health and wellbeing:

Prefer to express your feelings on paper? Try writing a gratitude journal. Each day, jot down a couple of things that happened in your day that mattered to you. Everything from feeling lucky to have friends/family that understand you, all the way down to the sandwich shop having your favourite filling, or your ‘best song ever’ coming on the radio on the drive home. It all counts.

Research by the University of Manchester showed that writing in a gratitude journal for just 15 minutes before bedtime helped students decrease their anxiety. Plus it improved the duration and quality of their sleep. By focusing on the good things in your life, you’re more likely to clear your mind and drift off in a positive mindset. This means less wake-ups in the night, more restful sleep, and improved health and wellbeing. Hoorah!

3. Remember to say thank-you:

Your Mum was right, don’t forget to say thank-you to others. Whether it’s your partner, kids, friends, or colleagues, expressing gratitude towards other people encourages their intimacy and trust. Even better, if they reciprocate, you’ll establish a powerful feedback loop where everyone feels appreciated. Win!

And remember to thank yourself too. Whether you’ve eaten your five a day, smashed a running PB, or made sure you got a decent sleep last night, pat yourself on the back for taking care of your health and wellbeing. Focusing on your achievements, however small, rather than comparing yourself to others will also boost your self-esteem and improve your self-image. Well, you are pretty amazing….

4. Send gratitude vibes someone else’s way:

Constantly glued to your phone or computer? Take a quick break and use your tech to send out some good vibes to someone else. Text a friend to tell them how much you enjoyed seeing them. Or give someone a high five on social media for something they’ve achieved.

It takes seconds, will make them feel great, and could even boost their health and wellbeing. Plus, showing empathy for others can trigger a sense of gratitude in you too. Putting your focus on others helps you to feel grateful for what you have. So you won’t get bogged down in your own shoulda/woulda/coulda worries.

5. Get the most from the good times:

Love that feeling when you’ve ticked off everything on your ‘to do’ list? Or made a seriously delicious meal, or spent a fun evening with friends? Next time you get that happy mood, pay attention to it, and make a note of exactly how you feel. What thoughts are you having, and what kind of physical sensations?

Then, when you want to reflect on what you have to feel grateful for another time, you can go back to this moment. It’s a great tool for helping you always find something positive to reflect on and means you get to experience the benefits of those happy moments all over again – result!

6. Take a step back for your health and wellbeing:

Busy lives mean it can be difficult to take the time to focus on yourself and your health and wellbeing. But putting aside some time each day to think about what you’re thankful for is a great way to earmark a moment for self-care. A 20-minute bath, meditation, or solo walk are all excellent spaces to unpack your day and mull over what you have to feel grateful for.

Find it hard to wind down and turn a busy brain off? The Relax and Unwind Patch can help you feel calm and reflect. It contains stress reducing ashwagandha and GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces signals in the brain. Pop on a patch and you can chill, take a deep breath, and find the space to tune into all those gratitude good vibes.