Over the past two years, our society has become acutely aware of the importance of mental health. Chronic stress, instability in individual and social routines and persistent threats to health and safety have eroded resiliency, resulting in increased mental health problems across the lifespan. Youth have been particularly impacted. Rates of depression and anxiety among youth have doubled over the course of the pandemic.
To address these alarming trends, it is critical to put forward deliberate efforts to help families restore and maintain good mental health. One simple yet highly effective prevention and intervention strategy is to promote the daily practice of evoking gratitude. Research has identified connections between gratitude and positive emotions, improved health, stronger relationships and the ability to cope with adversity. Additionally, a recent meta-analysis reviewing 62 studies on gratitude, which included samples of children, adolescents and adults, found a “robust” connection between higher levels of gratitude and lower levels of depression.
According to Jenna Glover, Ph. D., providers should utilize this knowledge and promote daily family practices related to gratitude. These practices help youth and adults develop a positive outlook on life, allowing for pleasant experiences to be deeply enjoyed and newly learned skills to help weather adversity.
Tips for practicing gratitude
Practicing gratitude is one of the easiest strategies to implement because it takes little effort and time to integrate into daily life. To maximize the benefits, gratitude needs to be practiced regularly and should include cognitive (i.e., identifying/naming) and emotional (i.e., experiential feelings) components. Below are tips for developing effective gratitude practice for individuals and parents.
Make it a routine
Find consistent times to tap into gratitude and spread these experiences throughout the day. For example, start each morning identifying an opportunity, situation or circumstance in the coming hours that you are looking forward to; then, before bed, consciously appreciate something you experienced that day. Any daily activity can be an opportunity to name and feel gratitude.
Focus on what’s working
When obstacles and negative filters dominate your thoughts, identify what’s working right now to help balance the stress. This can be helpful for individuals and group practice. Start by acknowledging and validating the difficulties and make a habit of checking in on and validating the things that are going well.
Tap into wonderment and awe
Feelings of wonderment and awe are incredibly restorative to mental and physical wellbeing. Get outside each day, pay attention to nature (e.g., sunrises, leaves changing, clouds passing, mountains), and take time to close your eyes briefly and inwardly notice feelings of connection and gratitude for our natural world.
Remember what we take for granted
There are many parts of our day-to-day life that we often fail to think about and truly appreciate. Examples might include having shelter, food or a warm shower. Often we only truly appreciate these things when they stop working (it’s easy to ignore a refrigerator until it breaks down). Don’t wait for these wake-up calls to appreciate the little things that make life better each day.
Express gratitude to others
Be on the lookout for big and small things that others do, and be vocal about what you notice. This practice helps you see when we are feeling grateful, and the positive feeling is amplified when we share the gratitude with the giver.
Show appreciation to kids
Pay attention to the effort children give, taking time to praise them when they clean up toys, help with chores or finish tasks without you reminding them.
Remember to say “please” and “thank you” throughout the day, and remind your children to do the same. Whether you are thanking them, a friend or even a stranger who lent a hand, saying “thank you” models kindness and demonstrates appreciation and gratitude for others.
Encourage volunteering and donations
Help those less fortunate; it’s a great way to foster generosity and show that we’re all in this together. Gratitude breeds courtesy, kindness and generosity, and fosters empathy and other skills, which benefits everyone now and later in life.
Taking care of you
Healthcare providers have seen a disproportionately negative impact on their mental health throughout the pandemic. Many providers report emotional exhaustion, sleep problems, work-related dread and compassion fatigue. It’s important that providers emphasize the use of gratitude for patients and focus on utilizing the practice for their own well-being.
Taking time to find what you are grateful for in your work each day can help improve compassion fatigue. Show appreciation for yourself by taking care of basic needs, including eating, getting good sleep, spending time with family and friends and taking time off. More than ever, healthcare providers need to prioritize their own well-being and utilize these practices to sustain themselves and remain in the field.