How Gratitude Can Change Your Brain To Shift Anxiety & Depression
God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say “thank you”?
– William A. Ward, Writer & poet
It can feel impossible to invoke a moment of genuine gratitude when you’re anxious or feeling low.
And yet, almost paradoxically, gratitude serves as a powerful catalyst in aiding you to manage your anxiety efficiently in order to rise above the low days.
Gratitude is a habit to be cultivated and a muscle to be developed.
Cultivating a lasting habit, and toning a weak muscle takes time, practice, and persistence.
If we think of emotions and feelings as energetic frequencies, then we can categorize them into two types:
High-Frequency emotions lift us up and elevate us.
They strengthen us physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically.
Low-Frequency emotions are heavy emotions that drag us down the scale.
Issues start to arise when we stay at a particular low frequency for too long, such as when we’re chronically anxious, angry, or depressed.
Then our state of being starts to settle at that frequency, making it more challenging to rise up the scale again.
This is why cultivating the habit of self-awareness is key.
When we learn to study ourselves and observe where we are on the scale, we can then summon the uplifting power of gratitude, appreciation, and contentment to help elevate us again.
The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.
– Dr. Robert Holden, Psychologist & Author
We’re not talking about the half-assed, rushed, rote, glossed-over kind of gratitude.
This is about feeling the energy of gratitude light up your insides.
You know you’re in the space of gratitude because you viscerally feel a shift.
Goosebumps, or a warm sensation in your body, or a shiver up the spine, or an uncontrollable smile, or watery eyes.
The Incredible Health Benefits of ‘Thank You’
The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life.
It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.
Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide…
Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.
It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.
Robert A. Emmons, PhD, professor of psychology at UC Davis and leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude
The image above was taken as part of a study conducted by the Institute of Heartmath, who wanted to track how different emotions affect the body, specifically how they affect the heart.
The heart rhythm reading on top in red was recorded during a moment of frustration, another low-frequency emotion.
Notice the erratic, jagged pattern that represents energy being drained while brain function and performance are impaired.
The bottom blue reading was recorded during a moment of appreciation.
Notice the more harmonious, sine-wave-like pattern that represents optimal brain function, improved performance, and increased resilience.
This is a physical representation of the power of high-frequency emotions – they can impact our ability to think, process, create, reason, and remember.
They even strengthen our physical bodies by building up our bodily systems and organs while even strengthening our immunity.
In fact, multiple studies are now proving how powerful gratitude, appreciation, and contentment can be.
According to UC Davis Research:
“Gratitude is associated with higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL), lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), and lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, both at rest and in the face of stress.
It also has been linked with higher levels of heart rate variability, a marker of cardiac coherence, or a state of harmony in the nervous system and heart rate that is equated with less stress and mental clarity.
Gratitude also lowers levels of creatinine, an indicator of the kidney’s ability to filter waste from the bloodstream, and lowers levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of cardiac inflammation and heart disease.” (1)
They also found that:
– Those who practice gratitude regularly are more likely to exercise more and care for their bodies more which in turn helps to better manage anxiety and depression.
– Those who keep gratitude lists are more likely to progress towards important personal goals (academic, interpersonal, health-based.)
– Practicing gratitude before bed can help you sleep better and have better quality sleep. (2)
Low-frequency emotions are shown to have the opposite effect. They wear us out physically, emotionally and mentally. They initiate a cascade of stress hormones that weaken our bodies by impairing functions like digestion, immunity, and metabolism.
How Gratitude Might Change Your Anxious/ Depressed Brain
One study took 43 individuals entering psychotherapy for anxiety and/or depression and assigned them a simple gratitude exercise like writing letters of appreciation.
Three months later they underwent brain scans.
The researchers found that such a simple gratitude exercise changed the subject’s brain in a way that was “associated with significantly greater and lasting neural sensitivity to gratitude.” (3)
Cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Christian Garrett explains the implications of the study results:
“The more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set…
The more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future.” (4)
So how can you deepen your own gratitude practice so you can shift your brain and begin experiencing these powerful benefits?
Here are 3 simple ways:
1. You can keep a Gratitude List on your phone so it’s handy and goes everywhere with you, add three new things each day.
2. You can schedule in Gratitude Minutes by creating reminders and alarms on your phone every 2 or 3 hours. (Take 60 seconds out of your day to intentionally workout this muscle.)
3. Whenever you catch yourself focusing on what’s wrong or what’s missing, or what you don’t have, turn it around immediately by noticing 3 things that you do have, are going right, and 3 things you’re grateful for.