change is possible

Benefits & Practices of Gratitude

Before you begin reading: take a moment and think of three things you are grateful for right now. Notice any feelings, sensations, thoughts, or reactions as you take this moment to reflect.

The practice of gratitude has been a tremendous part of my own personal growth and healing over the past 5 or so years. Because I have been profoundly impacted by this practice, I wanted to spend some time sharing the possible benefits and various strategies you may try. Many doctors and mental health professionals can be found citing the psychological and health benefits, ranging from fewer aches and pains, decreased blood pressure for folks with hypertension, reduction in anger, frustration and resentment, enhancement in empathy, decreased aggression, improved sleep, reduction in depressive symptoms, improved self-esteem, overall improvement in social relationships, increased spirituality, and more.

If you are looking for new ways to improve your overall mental and physical health, here is a list of ten possible gratitude practices you may consider trying:

             1. Gratitude journal - free-write about anything that comes to mind that you are feeling grateful for each night

             2. Gratitude list - similar to the gratitude journal, but if you are not interested in free-writing, you may choose to write a list instead. If may be helpful to decide on a certain number and work towards listing that many each day.

             3. Recite your gratitude - you could do this one when you wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night. Simply state all the things you are grateful out loud.

             4. Share your gratitude - choose to notice gratitude throughout the day and as often as you can express your gratitude to another person

             5. Meal Gratitude - Before you sit down for a meal, take a moment to reflect and thank (silently or out loud) on all the efforts it took to get your food to your plate. Acknowledge each part of the process individually (i.e. If you are eating an egg & cheese omelet, you might thank the chickens for producing the eggs, the farmer who raised the chickens, the store owners that sell chicken feed, the earth for providing grass, bugs, etc for chickens to eat, the person who boxed the eggs, the person who sold the eggs to you, the cow that produced the milk to make the cheese, and so on....).

              6. Gratitude Visualization - Take a moment to set up however you might for visualization/meditation. Choose a comfortable seat or lay down on the floor. Take a moment to notice your breath and notice how you feel in the moment. Envision a person that has contributed to your life. Try and notice all the details of this person that you can. Envision all the ways in which this person has helped you, supported you, or somehow made your life better. Take time to really soak this in. After you have spent time with this, envision yourself. Envision yourself thanking them. Consider all you might say or how you would like to thank them. Spend time letting this soak in. When you are ready, return to noticing your breath and how you feel in this new moment. Return to the room and continue on with your day/night.

             7. Self-Massage - You may choose an oil of your preference for this. Some options may include sesame oil (not the cooking kind), jojoba oil, coconut oil or whatever else feels right to you. You may work top-down or bottom-up. I would recommend top down if you are looking for stress relief or to calm before bed and top-up if you are looking to energize or wake up in the morning. Once you choose where to start, you will place a small dab of oil into your hands and begin to massage that into an area of your body. The trick is that when you do so, you are sending love and gratitude to that part of your body. (i.e. if massaging the feet, internally thank them for all the miles they have walked you, for holding the rest of your body, for helping you to keep balance, etc). Move slowly from body part to body part thanking each part for what it has offered you. If you do not have time to do a full body massage, or are not comfortable with this for any reason, just choose one area to work with and give thanks to. This is an adapted version of an Ayurvedic Practice called Abhyanga. If you are interested in learning more specifically about Abhyanga, visit cdn.banyanbotanicals.com

             8. Write a gratitude letter - Choose one person that has inspired you, supported you, loved you, or changed your life for the better in any way and write them a thank you letter acknowledging their importance and impact on your life.

             9. Earth Gratitude - Go outside and choose a comfortable area to practice child's pose. While you are in child's pose, notice the Earth beneath you. Feel whatever is touching your body. Thank the Earth out loud or silently for all it has provided to you.

            10. Walking Gratitude - Choose a place to take a walk. This will be a slow/meditative walk simply focused on gratitude. Every 5-10 steps you take, acknowledge something/someone you are grateful for (silently or out loud). Do this for the entirety of your walk. You may begin to choose a shorter distance walk in the beginning and work towards lengthening the distance as you practice.

I hope you find something here that seems worthy of trying - if not, create your own or do more research for additional ideas!

I will end with a reading from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening:

“The goal of all experience is to remove whatever might keep us from being whole. The things we learn through love and pain reduce our walls and bring our inner and outer life together, and all the while the friction of being alive erodes whatever impediments remain. But the simplest and deepest way to make who we are at one with the world is through the kinship of gratitude. Nothing brings the worlds of spirit and earth together more quickly. To be grateful means giving thanks for more than just the things we want, but also for the things that surmount our pride and stubbornness. Somethings the things I’ve wanted and worked for, if I actually received them, would have crushed me. Sometimes just giving thanks for the mystery of it all brings everything and everyone closer, the way suction pulls streams of water together. So take a chance and openly give thanks, even if you’re not sure what for, and feel the plentitude of all that is living brush up against your heart” - Mark Nepo


Making Changes: Quick Tips on Getting Started

I have worked with so many people that have an idea of a change they need to make, but they  can’t bring themselves to start. Often times, the change seems daunting and overwhelming and we end up in a repetitive pattern of avoiding the task we believe will be helpful. When we continue to avoid the task, we increase our anxiety and stress around the task, making it more difficult to reach our own goal. When we can’t reach our own goal, our negative self-talk spikes. When negative self-talk spikes, we feel even worse than we did to begin with. It’s a vicious cycle.

The bad news - in order to break the cycle, we must start facing our fears, doing what’s difficult, and experiencing the uncomfortable. The good news - it won’t feel this way forever.

As many of my clients have said (and I believe to be true) - nothing changes in your comfort zone.

So…. the question is, where do you begin?

1. Start small

If your goal was to hike Mount Everest, you wouldn’t set foot the day you decided to hike it. Or maybe you would. But, you would likely end up exhausted, overwhelmed, frustrated, and possibly in some serious trouble. You would likely need to turn back and end up beating yourself up for starting an “impossible task”. To start a big task or pursue a goal, make a list of steps and cross off the easiest ones first!  If you start with small steps building up to the final big task, you are more likely to learn what you need to know and build confidence accomplishing your goal.

2. Get support

Let’s go back to the Mount Everest example. If you were start this hike this without doing some google searches, asking others who have climbed it, or getting set up with a guide, it would likely be pretty tough and also lonely. Finding support can mean asking someone who’s been through something similar, reaching out to someone who cares about you or meeting with a professional. Support groups can also be helpful so that you can find others who are experiencing similar challenges. If you have never called 211, it’s a great resource to be aware of that can hook you up to many other resources in the community.

3. Acknowledge strides

Many of us have a strong negative mental filter (AKA - we only notice the negatives of a situation and filter out the positives). If this rings true for you, it will be extremely important to take time noticing how far you’ve come. We are all constantly changing and evolving. How have you evolved? What have you made it through? What are your accomplishments? This does not have to be nobel prize worthy. What can you do today that you couldn’t do yesterday, last week, or last year? Spend some time with this. Meditate on it. Journal about. Talk about it with someone.

4. Practice compassion

Change is REALLY hard. Ask people around you about changes they have overcome. We all have wanted to change things in our life and some things are harder or easier than others. If you are trying to make a change, remember how long you have lived the way that you are. If you have been living with anxiety for 1, 2, 5, 10, 25 years, then it probably won’t change over night. Be easy on yourself.

5. Begin again

I have found that it can be easy to give up on our goals when we do not see them “working” fast enough. For example, if you are trying to quit drinking and have a slip up, maybe you feel like it’s a waste of time. It can be helpful to remember that change is not a straight line. It is up and down and all around. Remember that every day, every hour, and every minute we have the option to begin again. If you slipped up today, start again tomorrow.

 

“Real change is difficult at the beginning. Without the familiar to rely upon, you may not be in as much command as you had once been. When things are not going your way, you will start doubting yourself. Stay positive, keep the faith, and keep moving forward – your breakthrough may be just around the corner.” 
― Roy T. Bennett