Mindfulness Exercise Series: Gratitude is the Right Attitude for Releasing Depression
What does it mean to be mindful/practice mindfulness?
Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis. Basically, mindfulness means being aware of and controlling your lived experience. You are in the moment acting, not reacting, to life.
But living in the kind of world that we do, our minds are constantly being pulled from one direction to another.
We’ve essentially become un-grounded and disconnected from our divine beings.
As mentioned in the last Mindfulness Exercise Series post for Releasing Anxiety, these negative preoccupations make our brains scatter our thoughts and emotions, and leaves us feeling stressed, strung-out, and anxious. We often find ourselves lost in daydreams about the past or the future, or are distracted by feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, worry, and all sorts of emotional suffering.
Not being mindful has become our new normal. So much that for most of the population, it feels natural for our minds to wander frequently.
But by intentionally practicing mindfulness, and deliberately paying more careful moment-to-moment attention, we learned that mindfulness exercises like The Magical 3-4-7 Breathing Technique can tremendously reduce anxiety. The is because mindfulness allows us to live more fully and less on ‘auto pilot,’ and thus, be more centered, relaxed, and present (University of California Center for Mindfulness).
Daily mindfulness practice develops our ability to pay attention to our immediate experience – The Now – helping us to overcome such pre-occupations so that we can clearly see what is happening in our actual lived experience of the present moment. By practicing mindfulness, we begin to grow in our ability to choose how we want to experience our daily life.
The more we practice this, the more our brain adapts and the more “normal” and “natural” it becomes to be mindful. It becomes natural to feel a sense of stability, inner calmness, and less reactivity of the mind. It helps us better cope with the crappy aspects of daily life and become more aware of the beauty and joys of the present moment.
By developing a simple and pure awareness, we learn to disconnect ourselves from our habitual thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and connect with our experience, with ourselves, and with others in a healthier, more relaxed way.
Disempower your depressing thoughts
Besides anxiety, practicing mindfulness can also be incredibly healing for those dealing with depression, feelings of loneliness, or those who are generally stuck in a negative or low vibration. Maybe you feel like you are living in a gloomy even sometimes emotionless, numb headspace.
Through mindfulness, you can work on noticing negative thought loops — not attempting to fix the content of your thoughts, but rather redirect from them and create new thought “content.”
Gratitude is the Right Attitude
...for feeling better mentally and physically
There are many other ways besides breath-work to practice mindfulness. One of those ways is by practicing gratitude, aka “mindful appreciation.” The more we emphasize the good in our life, like the things we are grateful for, the more positively our mindset can operate. And the more positive we feel, the more we can carry on our days with a “cool, calm, and collected” approach.
According to Psychology Today, scientists have concluded that practicing gratitude boosts happiness and can alleviate symptoms of depression. It is through this practice that we are able to shift our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones, evoke a surge of feel good hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, and produce a sense of wellbeing.
Besides a better mood and more peaceful headspace, practicing gratitude has been linked to a reduction in inflammation in the body, better sleep, less fatigue, and lower levels of harmful biomarkers related to cardiac health. A study conducted at the University of California, San Diego Medical Centers found that hospital patients who felt grateful had better overall cardiac function and a healthier heart rhythm.
This is no surprise. The mind and body are inherently connected. When we feel depressed, stressed, or anxious, it is also expressed physically. Our blood vessels constrict (and thus increases our blood pressure), our nervous system gets thrown off balance, our immune system become suppressed, our appetite changes, our hormones fluctuate, and we feel completely exhausted. When we are brought into a better headspace, we take the burden off our bodies.
So how should you practice gratitude?
One of the most powerful (and effective) ways to practice it is through gratitude journaling. All you need is just 5 minutes every day.
Leave a journal next to your bed. Every morning after waking up, write down 3 things that you’re grateful for. Here are some examples:
“I am grateful for…”
1. The warm bed that I sleep in
2. The fresh start that every morning brings
3. My wonderful mother who I know is always there for me
Next, write down 3 things you’re excited about/looking forward to today. Here are some examples:
“Today, I am looking forward to…”
1. Spending time with my sister
2. Making healthy food choices for myself
3. Not caring about what people think of me
After this (still in the morning), write down your affirmation for the day, aka a mantra or something you will repeat to yourself. For example:
Confident in my ability to attract peace into my life.
Repeat this affirmation to yourself at least three times in the morning and ideally throughout the day, such as every time you look at yourself in the mirror.
At the end of the day before going to bed, pick up your journal and write down 3 good things that happened today. Here are examples:
“Good things that happened today…”
1. I made my bed when I woke up
2. A friend recommended an interesting book to me
3. I went for a walk in nature and got some fresh air
As a bonus exercise for the end of each week, write down 3 funny things that happened during the week. In addition, write about a moment this week when a negative event led to an unforeseen positive outcome.
I know it can be difficult at first when you’re feeling low. But sometimes you really have to “fake it ’til you make it.” If you’re feeling so low that nothing really excites you or makes you feel that happy, you have to force your mind to think about things that have once brought some sort of positivity and joy into your life. The goal is, the more you train your mind to do this, the more you will start creating positive associations again.
The most important part about this exercise is making it into a daily practice. You must make gratitude journaling a part of your everyday routine.
Consistency is key, and it will be the thing that heals you.