When negative thoughts start taking over your mind, the last thing you want to think about is gratitude. What is there to be thankful for when so much seems to be going wrong?
Actually, the answer is much more than you’d think. Practicing gratitude can be an effective way to cope with depression and low mood.
Read on to learn about the benefits of practicing gratitude against depression, and how to include it in your daily routine.
The benefits of gratitude in times of low mood
Even when everything feels dark, focusing on the things you’re grateful for, no matter how small, can help put things in perspective. By noticing and reflecting on what you feel thankful for, you’re helping your brain focus on the positive.
It’s not about denying your negative thoughts and feelings. It’s about reminding yourself that there is positivity in your life to counterbalance it. And there’s scientific evidence behind it. A study by psychologist Alex Wood suggests that gratitude can reduce both the duration and frequency of depressive episodes.
In a series of studies led by Robert Emmons, people practicing gratitude consistently have reported a variety of physical and psychological benefits including:
Feeling more positive overall
Feeling more energetic
Feeling less isolated
Feeling more compassionate
A more resilient immune system
Lower blood pressure
Gratitude can help boost your mental and physical health. It makes it a powerful tool to overcome depression and negative thoughts.
How to practice gratitude
Gratitude is the act of recognizing and showing appreciation for people and things that bring you happiness. You can be thankful for someone’s kindness, but also for having a roof over your head or witnessing a beautiful sunset on your way back from work.
So, how do you practice gratitude, exactly? We’ve compiled a few ideas to include gratitude in your daily routine. The most important thing is to remain consistent with your practice. It might feel silly at first, but soon you’ll be happy to see how much positivity you’re capable of.
Start a gratitude journal
Writing what you’re thankful for every day can be an easy way to start your gratitude journey. Grab a nice notebook and set aside five to ten minutes at the end of each day to slow down and reflect on what you’re grateful for.
Try to write down five things per day, from what made you smile to the most heartwarming events of your day. You might struggle at first, but keep trying. Soon, you’ll be noticing much more of these positivity-filled moments – be they praise or a sunny day.
Try gratitude “rituals”
These rituals can look as simple or as out-of-the-box as you wish. Find the one that works for you! Here are a few ideas to practice gratitude in a creative way:
Read daily affirmations
Read daily gratitude affirmations every morning when you wake up, such as “I am grateful for everything that brings me joy and positivity in life” or “I am thankful for every step forward I take in my life”. Find more ideas here.
Use art to express gratitude. It’s a great way to express yourself if you’re struggling to find the words, or if you already have an artistic practice such as music or painting.
Get a gratitude jar
Create a gratitude jar. It’s a more fun and flexible alternative to the gratitude journal. Every time you feel grateful, write it down on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. When you’re feeling down, open the jar and read everything you’ve felt grateful for. It will give you the confidence that you can and will feel like this again.
Write a letter
Write a letter to someone who’s been a kind and supportive presence in your life. It doesn’t matter if you don’t send it. The important thing is to express these feelings and acknowledge how thankful you are for their positive impact on your life.
Create your own gratitude reminder
It can be anything from lighting a candle to a daily walk or your favorite herbal tea before bed. Associate a habit in your daily routine with practicing gratitude. Every time you do it, try to think about what you feel thankful for.
Mindfulness can be a great tool to work on your gratitude. The human body is an extraordinary way to experience the world! Reconnecting with your five senses can help feel more present and appreciate the little things in life.
Every day and every time you feel overwhelmed, take the time to focus on your senses with 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Try to identify:
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
If you want to practice your sense of gratitude, giving back is essential. Acknowledge what you’re thankful for, especially when it comes from other people. A simple thank you goes a long way! It’s a win-win situation: you’re both exercising your ability to recognize positivity but also rewarding others for their support and kindness.
If you’re having a hard time finding things to be grateful for, it’s ok. Gratitude shaming isn’t going to help – rather the contrary. Let yourself feel what you feel. Again, practicing gratitude is about acknowledging the positive, not pretending the negative doesn’t exist.
Struggling with low mood or depression? Connect with the TalkLife community to share your journey and get support from like-minded people.