calm and happy woman

Why a Gratitude Practice Will Make You Healthier

The tension was getting worse.

The throbbing from my upper back was tightening.

As I was driving home, I could feel my right arm going numb.

I pulled over. I felt my heart beat. My chest was pounding.

I didn’t have time for this.

I started the car back up and made it home.

When I got home I said hello and climbed into bed. My wife asked me if everything was ok. I told her everything was fine, so not to worry her.

Everything was not fine. I wasn’t sure if I was having a heart attack, a panic attack, or something else was happening to me.

I woke up the next day feeling a little better. As I drove into work I could feel the tension in my upper back take hold. Then by the afternoon my right arm starting going numb again.

I called my doctor and tried to see if she could fit me in. She had a later afternoon slot.

I went in and she asked me about my mood. I explained how work wasn’t going so well. She asked about my home life and I told her everything was fine.

She told me that she thought I had anxiety. She prescribed some medication that I never took.

It was around this time that I started keeping my first gratitude journal. It helped, but it didn’t stick.

I unfortunately wasn’t ready yet.

This was the start of my gratitude journey that has led me to today.

I now keep a daily gratitude journal that has shifted my mindset from a complainer to someone who enjoys most moments that I’m in. I’m far from perfect, but I truly am a lucky man.

I have more energy now than I did in my 20s. I’m 43 and I feel better than I ever have.

Researching gratitude is one of my favorite past times and I found a few interesting studies.

Stress

My stress was at an all-time high when I worked for a bi-polar CEO who changed her mind on a minute to minute basis. I wanted to quit 1000 times, but I knew I couldn’t do it to my family.

What I didn’t take into account was that I was doing a lot of harm to my body. My wife is convinced that much of the stress caused my cancer. This isn’t proven, but some studies have found links between stress and cancer.

“Evidence from experimental studies does suggest that psychological stress can affect a tumor’s ability to grow and spread. For example, some studies have shown that when mice bearing tumors were kept confined or isolated from other mice—conditions that increase stress—their tumors were more likely to grow and spread (metastasize). In one set of experiments, tumors transplanted into the mammary fat pads of mice had much higher rates of spread to the lungs and lymph nodes if the mice were chronically stressed than if the mice were not stressed. Studies in mice and in human cancer cells grown in the laboratory have found that the stress hormone norepinephrine, part of the body’s fight-or-flight response system, may promote angiogenesis and metastasis.” Study found on Cancer.gov website.

I believe that it played a factor in my cancer. It’s another part of what led me on my journey.

In a sick way I’m grateful that I’ve had cancer. I don’t think I would be as happy as I am now if I had never experienced it. It’s forced me to be hyper aware of how I react to a situation. If I feel the tension in my shoulders, I know I need to slow down and appreciate what I do have in my life.

Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis found out that stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people. And having a daily gratitude practice could actually reduce the effects of aging to the brain.

After I read this I realized that my gratitude journal is helping me live longer. That’s amazing. Just taking some time in the morning and at the end of each day, I feel happier and I’m extending my life.

Positivity

I struggled with looking at the bright side of life. I remember my first date with my wife. The whole time, I repeated in my head.

“Don’t say anything stupid!”

It was a tough first date for me. After a few dates I eventually relaxed enough to have a good time and start being myself.

It has taken me 15 years since that first date to feel like I’m a positive person who believes that good things will happen to me. It’s because of my focus on gratitude. When I’m focused on what good things I have in my life, then more good things happen to me.

Chad Burton and Laura King figured out that if people kept a journal about positive experiences, it helped increase happiness. The participants also had fewer symptoms of illness.

I found this research after I got hooked on keeping a gratitude journal. It’s true. My ulcer is completely gone. I’ve been cancer free for 9 years. I also sleep so much better, which also supports my ability to stay healthy.

Communication

I remember when I was in my twenties and I would struggle with anxiety before I would go into work. My hands would sweat and sometimes I would have mini panic attacks.

I remember one day in particular when I got to work early because traffic was light. I remembered I pulled over in a gas station and parked for 10 minutes so as not to go into work early. I didn’t want to go in to the convenience store and spend money I didn’t have, so I just leaned back in my car seat and played my favorite song at the time, which was Release from Pearl Jam.

This anxiety subsided when I started documenting my experiences at work in my journal.

According to a Stanford report, you improve your public speaking skills when you write in your journal. When you write your thoughts down it makes it easier to share those thoughts with others.

You build your neural pathways when you practice in different ways. So if you write, you are helping yourself process information in a different way than if you just think about what you are grateful for and don’t take any physical action to document it. You are giving yourself alternative ways of looking at a situation.

Start Small

If you want to live a healthier life and build your EQ, I suggest you start a gratitude practice.

Take time to slow down and reflect on what went well.

Your entry could look something like this:

  • I did a very good job of staying calm during a big presentation.
  • I’m proud of how hard I worked with my team to deliver a great workshop.
  • I did a great job of taking a break when I felt overwhelmed.

This is a great place to start because when you remember the things you did well at the end of the day, you are helping solidify the positive neural pathways in your brain so they are easier to access.

If you are interested in starting a journal then try joining the next free 30 Day Gratitude Challenge or the Full 30 Day Bring Gratitude Challenge and get daily encouragement for just 10 cents a day. You can start today or the beginning of next month. You’ll get emails to keep you on track and a private group of the most caring and supportive people.

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