Gratitude and Anxiety: An unexpected combination

A snapshot from April 2018 of my Thank You card collection. Just one of the many ways I like to incorporate gratitude into my life.

Who here has heard of gratitude meditation or writing in a gratitude journal? Like with many trendy topics that include nice sounding buzz-words like “self-care” or “treat yourself” it is easy to quickly write off “gratitude” as one of those trends. Here for a little bit, but with no actual substance. Well today we are adding another trendy phrase to the list “practicing gratitude as a means to combat anxiety.”

These ideas often get watered down or pushed to the side with the thought of “yeah, I’m thankful for everything I have, I know, but that just makes me feel worse about feeling anxious.” You stop right there… I said said stahp right there[!] in that thought because that is not what I am going to talk about today. In fact, that particular thought is one that I had many times and one that STILL immediately triggers guilt for me. “I know I have so much to be thankful for so I shouldn’t be feeling the way I am.” False. That is not really how anxiety works — or at least my anxiety.

Now that we have the foundation set, here are three reasons why I am recommending that you keep gratitude in mind the next time you are feeling anxious. Write it out. Say it out loud. Simply just think it to yourself. Whichever way is most comfortable for you. Ready? Let’s do it. Expressing gratitude has the power to:

  1. help you reframe your response to a triggering situation in a way that is gentle and not guilt producing.
  2. provide a rational perspective in an otherwise [what feels like] irrational situation.
  3. allow you to avoid spiraling out of control in an endless stream of increasingly negative, or in my case negative and catastrophic, thoughts.

A real-life example:

Pre-gratitude: “Ugh why did I make plans tonight? I am working all day, it’s raining, the last thing I want to do is go out for drinks with friends. They said drinks — no mention of food. I’m going to be hungry. They’re going to ask me about [fill in triggering topic here] and I just do NOT have the mental capacity to even think about being social. I’ll be getting home at like 8 and then I have to do laundry and [insert every single item from to-do list here]. I need to stop doing this.”

Post-gratitude: “ Ugh why did I make plans tonight? I am working all day, it’s raining, the last thing I want to do is go out for drinks with friends. But, thank goodness we were all able to find a time that worked well in our schedules — we haven’t been able to do this in a while. If I were to back out now, I’m not sure I know when I’ll see them next. I’ve been meaning to ask [insert friend’s name here] about her trip. Ooo ooo and we’re going to the place with the cutie drink served in the tea cup and the awesome appetizers. Thank goodness [insert friend’s name] picked this place and offered to drive. I am definitely getting food. All right, I think this will actually be good.

**Disclaimer: When typing this out I realized that my self-dialogue sounds an awful lot like a cheesy HR training video. In all seriousness though, this is a conversation I have with myself just about every time I make plans on a weekday.

To address some potential lingering questions:

Is this the magic-super-awesome-self-healing secret that will cure all of your anxiety? Nope. Hey Julia, are you a licensed mental health counselor? Definitely not. Have you used this method and found success? Yes. Do you still have bad days where this method doesn’t work? Of course.

As with each of our own experiences we need to find what works best for us in each specific situation that we face. Expressing gratitude is just one way to achieving balance in unbalanced situations.

Xx Julia

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