How Practicing Gratitude has Helped Me Deal with Anxiety
In the 8th grade, I found myself on edge most days. I was nervous to be left in a group of people I wouldn’t normally socialize with. I would cry before bed if I knew we had to read aloud in class the following day. Knowing I’d have to walk across the stage alone at my graduation was a thought that flooded my mind for nearly a month before the event. After talking with my mom about this constant sense of unease, we decided it’d be a good idea to visit my doctor. I was referred to a cognitive therapist and was introduced to behavioral therapy to treat social anxiety. The homework she’d assign me helped tremendously with my anxieties and confidence throughout high school.
By the time I’d started university, my anxieties had evolved to affect me in more than just the social domain. I began feeling anxious all of the time. Doubt, the fear of failure, and uncertainty are only a few of countless negative thoughts that inundated my mind. My doctor suggested that I continue with behavioral therapy but that I consider adding in medication. She emphasized the importance of continuing with the behavioral exercises and explained that I wouldn’t be taking the medication forever— only until those practices became second nature.
I continued with the behavioral therapy on and off for several years. I’d only ever contact the behaviorist when my anxiety felt crippling. My doctor helped me find a medication that seemed to help keep the negative thoughts at bay and she would follow-up with me every 3-4 months.
Part of me thought that my anxieties would disappear once I graduated, but that wasn’t the case. Even after I’d received my degree, negative thoughts would come to me regularly. I started having a few panic attacks every couple of weeks and I knew I needed to take action.
In September of 2019, I revisited the behavioral therapist. She suggested that I try practicing gratitude. She explained to me that by focusing on positive things, that I would have less room in my mind for negative ones. She had me write down 3 things that I was grateful for a few times per week. As the weeks went on, I struggled to come up with new things to write down. I realized that I was having a tough time coming up with new ideas because I was limiting myself. I’d already written down all the BIG things (family, friends, the gym, my dog) and realized I had to shift my focus towards SMALLER things that I’m grateful for (the sun coming out on my lunch break, a new face in my cycling class, having a coffee every morning with my mom to start the day).
In these months that I’ve spent practicing gratitude, I haven’t had any panic attacks, my interpersonal relationships are much healthier, and I no longer take anxiety medication (this is the first time I haven’t needed it in 7 years)! I didn’t reap the benefits overnight—these things take time!
In these 9 months, I’ve realized that I’m grateful for a whole heck of a lot. I started making note of things that I’m thankful for twice a week, but now I do it twice a day. Gratitude helps us let go of toxic emotions by replacing them with positive thoughts. Your whole mindset changes! I’m happier and mentally healthier than I’ve ever been.
If you’re thinking about starting to practice gratitude, start small and don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t think of something. You will eventually—I promise! Here are a few ways to get started:
1. Write someone a thank-you note.
2. Start a note on your phone to add to when you think of something you’re thankful for.
3. Keep a gratitude journal.
4. Download an app (I use “Gratitude”. You can set reminders on your phone. It also has an affirmation feature—it’s good to remind yourself of how awesome you are sometimes).
5. Meditation – Mindfulness is important! Be present. It’s easier to appreciate where you’re at and what’s around you.
If I can help you out in any way, reach out to me any time! I’d love to chat! You can shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Hope to see you guys soon. I miss you all a ton!