by Amy Clay, LPC, Co-founder of Sunstone Counseling
I’ve recently shifted my role at Sunstone to focus on outreach and business development – connecting with other “helpers and healers” in our community and letting them know about our compassionate team of counselors and range of services.
As I’ve been on the ground, I’ve met a lot of medical providers and have been overcome by their dedication, perseverance, and tireless work for their patients. Seeing their work to serve their communities, especially as COVID continues to take its toll, has left me feeling one emotion in particular: GRATITUDE.
It’s no coincidence that gratitude is on my mind with Thanksgiving just around the corner. The holiday gives us an amazing opportunity to gather with the people we love and reflect on what we’re grateful for. But oftentimes, that gratitude fades from center stage with the last of the turkey and stuffing.
So how can we keep feelings of gratitude going all year long? And why should we?
Gratitude = More Gratitude
For many people, the holiday season can be extremely challenging, exacerbating current mental health conditions or triggering new feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, or overwhelm. But Thanksgiving – the unofficial start of the holiday season – could help us kick it off on a better foot with the opportunity to offer thanks. And not just for what we have, but who we are. We can take gratitude one step further and offer ourselves the gift of self-compassion.
Turning compassion inward can be a antidote for “human giver” syndrome – the idea, especially for women, that we have a duty to give ourselves (our time, our bodies, our dreams, and more) to another person.
Self-compassion can offer us the permission to take a break, process whatever is challenging us, release it, and move on to the next challenge or opportunity. Allowing ourselves the space to feel and process is key to nurturing our mental health and ensuring that we have the capacity to do all of the things in life that we want to.
There has been much research on the positive effects of expressing gratitude – from keeping anxious and depressive thoughts at bay to helping us catch better z’s. It may even keep us happy as it blankets our brains in mood-boosting chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.
With all of these benefits, imagine what could happen if we kept those feelings of gratitude going past November 24 AND evolved them into self-compassion! We could better prepare ourselves for the stress of the holidays, help us prioritize what’s really important, and keep our mental health front and center.
Gratitude Isn’t Always a Grand Gesture
You may be thinking to yourself, “this sounds great, but how do I do it, especially when I’m being pulled in a million different directions?” Practicing gratitude and self-compassion doesn’t have to mean booking a week-long meditation retreat (although that sounds good, doesn’t it?).
Here are five quick and meaningful ways you can keep that gratitude and self-compassion going every day and all year-round:
- Keep a gratitude journal. A journal can serve as an outlet to reflect on what you’re grateful for in your life and help organize your thoughts and feelings, providing you with additional clarity and maybe even a few “aha” moments. Take five minutes a day to jot down what comes to mind. It could be as simple as “I’m grateful for a delicious meal” or as deep as gratitude for your family or friends.
- Remember challenging times. It can be difficult or painful to think about the challenges we’ve faced. But reflecting back on a difficult time in life can help us feel deeper gratitude for when things are going well. We may even find a reason to celebrate ourselves for navigating through something tough.
- Practice gratitude meditations. Similar to a gratitude journal, a meditation practice can help us express gratitude on a regular basis. Finding a guided audio meditation or watching a video can be a great way to connect with gratitude, especially if you’re new to the practice. And, there are a multitude of resources online that can help you get started.
- Hone your observation skills. Cognitive behavior therapy is an approach we often use with our clients to help them understand the connection between their thoughts and feelings, and how they influence their behavior. Notice when you’re being hard on yourself and change the narrative. Take a moment to notice all the wonderful things about you – your generosity or sense of humor – and offer yourself some kindness.
- Develop a growth mindset. Just as our thoughts and feelings can influence our behavior, so too can our outlook on the world around us. If we automatically assume we’ll fail at something, our behaviors and decisions can create a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. But if we reframe challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, we can potentially shape a more positive outcome.
Get Your Gratitude On
The month of November provides us a built-in opportunity to reflect and give thanks. So let’s take that gift and go a little further. Keep practicing gratitude through November and December and into the new year.
And maybe most importantly, leverage that gratitude and offer yourself self-compassion and the time to rest, recharge, and care for your mental health. A little really can go a long way.
If you feel you need a little extra help to support your mental health for the holidays and beyond, reach out to Sunstone and find the right counselor to guide you to a brighter tomorrow.