By Anne Boucard, MSN, RN, APN-BC, PMHNP-BC
This is the season of gratitude, in which friends and family gather and give thanks for all the good in their lives.
But what if instead of limiting gratitude to one season, you made gratitude a part of your every day?
While there are many definitions of gratitude, it is generally characterized as an overall feeling of thankfulness or appreciation for what is meaningful in your life.
For some, it may be the simple beauty of a sunrise, a new job, or a spending time with a loved one. For others, it may be a clean bill of health from the doctor.
Whatever it is you’re grateful for, research shows that framing your outlook with gratitude can reduce stress, improve physical and mental health, and even help you sleep better.
Moreover, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), at least one study has found that thankfulness predicted a significantly lower risk of major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence, and drug abuse.
So as a gift to yourself this season, why not cultivate a little more gratitude in your life? Here are 10 ideas to get you started:
• Shake your feathers. Greet each day as a fresh start, shaking off what happened yesterday and not worrying about what will happen tomorrow. Realize that the day is a gift, and a gift is something to be cherished.
• Establish a purpose. Once you have a purpose in mind, you can create a structured plan to help define it and achieve it.
• Dress for the day. Dressing for the day, holding your head up and walking with confidence can help you feel good about yourself, which supports a sunnier and more grateful outlook.
• Claim the day. Whether it’s a Marvelous Monday or Terrific Tuesday, name the day and frame it that way in your mind. Keep coming back to it throughout the day, especially when the day gets rough.
• Start a gratitude journal. Take a minute or two each day to make a list of the things you are grateful for.
• Be present. Try to stay present in the moment and acknowledge the positive moments as they are happening.
• Relive the good times. Relive positive moments later by thinking about them or sharing them with others.
• Write a letter. Write a letter to someone to say thanks and express why you are grateful for them. You don’t have to send it, but doing so could really brighten their day.
• Say thanks. Telling someone thank you — in person and in the moment — is an act of gratitude. Do it as often as you can, but make sure the sentiment is genuine.
• Start a gratitude jar. Each day, write down something you are grateful for on a slip of paper and put it in a jar. At the end of the month, open the jar and remind yourself of all the reasons you have to be happy.
It is important to note that while adopting an attitude of gratitude can help improve your mood and reduce your risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, it alone is not a treatment for serious mental health disorders.
If you have symptoms of a mental health disorder, it is critical to talk with your doctor and seek help from a qualified mental health professional. These symptoms may include:
• Excessive worrying or fear
• Feeling excessively sad or low
• Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
• Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
• Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
• Avoiding friends and social activities
• Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
• Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
• Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
• Changes in sex drive
• Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
• Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (“lack of insight” or anosognosia)
• Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
• Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
• Thinking about suicide
• Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
• An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance
Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health offers evidence-based treatment programs for people of all ages — children, adolescents, young adults, adults, and older adults — who are struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse problems or a combination of both. Specialized programs for men and women are available.
For more information about Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health or to find a therapist with Princeton House, call 888-437-1610 or visit www.princetonhouse.org.
Anne Boucard, MSN, RN, APN-BC, PMHNP-BC, is an advanced practice psychiatric nurse practitioner at Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health in Hamilton, NJ.