Thanksgiving and Gratitude
With Thanksgiving around the corner, people with an eating disorder often have increased fear come up around the holiday, particularly centering around the food. It is important to come up with a specific plan for coping with difficulties surrounding food with your treatment team. One component that can help people cope with this fear is to work on broadening the lens. So instead of just focusing on the food this holiday, working to expand our vision to also include a focus on gratitude, one of the holiday traditions.
A gratitude practice can have a profound effect on our mood and general sense of well being. It has been found to increase our happiness and overall sense of satisfaction as well as result in greater resiliency . Gratitude lowers our experiences of anxiety and depression. It increases our ability to manage negative emotions and increases our dopamine leading to a natural high.
The changes from gratitude can be seen both behaviorally as well as through changes in the brain. Some of these changes include increased activity in the hypothalamus and changes in the medial prefrontal cortex.
Other benefits of gratitude include:
-Increased experience of positive emotions
-Improved social relationships
-Improved self esteem
One study focused on a specific practice of gratitude which involved having participants write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks. This simple act was found to have an improved outcome on mental well being and these effects lasted even 12 weeks after the intervention. To read more about the study you can find that information here.
An important finding in gratitude research is that the benefits of a gratitude practice improve over time. The theory behind this is that the experience of gratitude primes the brain to be more sensitive to additional experiences of gratitude leading to even more significant effects on psychological well being. See this study for more information.
Gratitude is a much easier practice when things are going our way. When it’s a sunny 72 degree out day, my kids are playing sweetly with each other, and I heard a piece of good news, I have a much easier time identifying the things I am grateful for. When, it’s storming, the powers out, and I’m dealing with the 10th toddler tantrum of the day, it can be more challenging. Personally, it is in those more challenging moments that when I remember to tap into gratitude that I notice the biggest shift in my outlook and sense of wellbeing.
Here are a few gratitude exercises to try out:
1. Write a gratitude letter to someone different each week for 3 weeks
2. Keep a daily gratitude journal
3. Verbalize to a friend how grateful you are for their friendship
4. Be extra attentive to your partner and point out reasons you are grateful for them throughout the day
A gratitude practice does not have to be perfect to be effective. Work on setting a goal and holding compassion for yourself if you forget to complete your practice that day or week.
So, this Thanksgiving work on broadening the lens to include intentionally focusing on gratitude. While a gratitude practice will not solve all of your struggles, going into the day with a mindset primed to look for experiences of gratitude can help ease some of the stressors of the day and lead to more enjoyment overall.
"Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and
change ordinary opportunities into blessings"