The Link Between Practicing Gratitude and Reduced Anxiety

We all want a happy and healthy life with a great job, a perfect family, financial stability, and fulfilling social life. However, our life doesn’t always pan out the way we want it to, and when we don’t hit the milestones and goals we set for ourselves it can lead to heightened anxiety and even depression. When left unmanaged, the impacts of anxiety can negatively impact our physical and mental health.

Despite this infinite pursuit of happiness, we rarely spare the time we need to be thankful for what we have in our lives. Gratitude is a powerful emotion. By receiving and conveying simple ‘thank you’ thoughts and messages, we can take pleasure in what we have in life. Furthermore, research suggests that practicing gratitude is a strong way to reduce anxiety.

The Impact of Gratitude on the Brain

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have conducted extensive research on gratitude. In one study, they separated the participants into three groups and asked them to write a few sentences each week. Group one wrote about what they were grateful for, group two about their daily irritations and group three could write on anything that had impacted their week (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. 

The impact of gratitude on the brain is long-lasting. Besides enhancing empathy and self-love, gratitude significantly impacts bodily response functions and psychological conditions such as anxiety, stress, and depression.

In particular, gratitude impacts the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system is the part of the brain that is responsible for all emotional experiences. The limbic system is made up of the hypothalamus, thalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and cingulate gyrus. Studies have shown that the hippocampus and amygdala, whose main functions are to regulate emotions, memory, and bodily functioning, become activated with feelings of gratitude. Additionally, gratitude can lower blood pressure, facilitate more efficient sleep, and improve immune function in the body.

Gratitude can also help to minimize and mitigate other symptoms associated with anxiety.

  • According to a study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the United States, gratitude helps to manage sleep disorders, including insomnia
  • Gratitude helps to reduce stress hormones in the body. According to research presented by UC Davis Health, gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of cortisol (the hormone that creates stress in the body).
  • Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as resentment, envy, depression, and regret.

Ways to Add Gratitude Into Your Life

Derived from the Latin word gratia, which means gratefulness, gratitude is a thankful appreciation for the tangible and intangible aspects of our lives. Instead of focusing on new aspirations or seeking physical and material needs to achieve happiness and satisfaction, gratitude helps individuals refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. Although it may seem simple, gratitude creates a positive mental state that grows stronger with use and practice.

Here are a few simple ways to implement gratitude into your life on a regular basis.

  • Write a thank-you note: You can nurture your relationships and make yourself happier by writing thank you notes expressing your appreciation for the people in your life and how they make your life better. Make it a habit to send at least one thank you note a month. You can even send one to yourself.
  • Start a gratitude journal: Keep a journal and write things down every night you are grateful for. As you write, you’ll notice more positive things in your life. Your journal will help you notice more in your life that is worth appreciating.
  • Mentally give thanks: If you don’t have time to write, you can mentally give thanks. Whether it’s for something you created or for something someone else helped you with, take time each day to think about what you are grateful for.
  • Count your blessings: Pick a time each week to contemplate what you are thankful for. You can even pick a number, like three or five things, that you will identify each week.
  • Pray: People who are religious can use prayer to give thanks for all the joys in their life.
  • Meditate: Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without passing judgment on yourself or others. You can use meditation to focus on what you’re grateful for, such as the warmth of the sun, your health, your family, etc.).

Practicing Gratitude to Manage Anxiety

Practicing gratitude is not a surefire way to treat anxiety. However, it can be used to relieve the symptoms and negative thoughts associated with anxiety. By accepting and acknowledging that there are things in your life to be thankful for, you realize that your fears and worries are irrational, and don’t deserve so much time and attention. 

Whether you or a loved one needs help managing anxiety, our team of mental professionals can help. At Cypress, our family of psychotherapists leverages their experience, training, and compassion to provide a wide range of treatment solutions to help treat the symptoms causing distress. 

Contact a member of our team to learn more about our on-site clinical and teletherapy options for your mental health.