Moving Forward with Gratitude
It’s been just a little over one year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when our world was upended. All the uncertainty, fear, ambiguity and change in our daily lives has taken a toll on our emotional, mental and physical well-being. It created a year we will never forget.
Caregiving can be stressful and challenging at any time. Now add in the pandemic, which has only increased the stress and challenges that caregivers face.
So how do we move forward?
Gratitude is a tool we can use to move ahead. Dr. Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, defines gratitude as “the ability to recognize the goodness in your life, which is due to your surroundings as well as the actions of another person or a group of people.”
Gratitude involves recognizing, appreciating and acknowledging the simpler things in life. It doesn’t have to be saved for only the big moments.
The ability to feel and express gratitude is not something we are born with. It is something we have to practice, and it can help relieve the stress of caregiving. Gratitude helps us manage difficult emotions. When we are feeling frustrated, exhausted and challenged, we can dig deep to find what is good.
What are the benefits of practicing gratitude?
Studies have found that gratitude and positive emotions are closely connected to our health and wellness. Gratitude can help reduce anxiety and allows you to focus on the things that matter most. It can help us better cope with stressful, negative and frustrating situations.
Dr. Emmons found that if we practice gratitude daily, we can:
- Increase happiness
- Reduce stress
- Improve physical and mental well-being
- Boost optimism
- Improve sleep
- Improve focus and cognitive flexibility
- Strengthen our resilience
This all translates to being a better caregiver.
How to build gratitude
We tend to think too much about what goes wrong, and we don’t spend enough time on what goes right. Practicing gratitude daily will help you notice and appreciate the good things that happen, resulting in stability and a sense of calm.
Keep a gratitude journal
At the beginning or end of each day, write down positive thoughts and what you’re grateful for. There are some days when it will be hard, but with practice, it will get easier.
Say thank you
Sharing your gratitude and letting someone know how much you appreciate them can strengthen your relationship.
Write a gratitude letter
Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, developed this idea. Think of someone you care about and write them a letter of gratitude. Note all the things they did for you when they were able. If possible, hand deliver it and read it aloud to them. You’ll not only make their day, but yours as well.
Mindfulness is a state of being conscious and aware of what is happening in the present moment. Mindfulness is not avoiding or neglecting things that need to be done. Instead, it is drawing our attention to what is happening now.
Replace an ungrateful thought with a grateful one
We can recondition our brains to replace negative self-defeating thoughts with new, positive thoughts. Take a negative thought, flip it around and look for the good in it. It’s sometimes easier said than done, but by practicing this, the negative thought pattern will change over time.
You will not always look to your caregiving tasks with thankfulness or gratitude. Caregiving can have negative psychological, social, physical and financial consequences which in turn can affect a caregiver’s health and ability to provide care to their loved one. But when things get challenging, you can always turn to the power of gratitude to let go of some of those negative feelings. If you keep your sense of gratitude going, you will have a reservoir of gratitude. When things do go wrong (and you know they will), take a deep breath, put things in perspective and remember to be grateful that you can always learn something new from a difficult situation.
“The struggle ends when the gratitude begins.” Neale Donald Walsh – author and speaker