Do you have difficulty relieving stress?
If so, have you ever experienced a moment of true gratitude? That feeling of being so grateful for something or for someone that everything else just seems to completely melt away for you…then voila, you’re happy.
If you haven’t, let me tell you from personal experience, that it just might be the most powerful “happy pill” you’ll ever swallow.
Relieving Stress | The Emotional Snowball
Over the years, in my personal life, I’ve found that relieving stress (big or small) has at times been a pretty big challenge for me. This is especially true for the small day to day type stresses that build up slowly over time.
-Let’s say it’s Monday morning. Something slightly annoying or stressful happens to me early in the day which starts out pretty insignificant…maybe it’s an email I received from a friend that I somehow interpret as less than positive. I cope with it by trying not to make a big deal out of it. I shift my focus or I just force a smile on my face then point my mind toward the day and keep on plowing forward.
-Then, later that same morning, something else might happen to me that’s completely unrelated to the first problem. Maybe I’m driving to an appointment to see a customer and someone decides to ride right on my rear bumper for 10 miles straight. No problem “just keep your cool and don’t take it personal” I tell myself. “It doesn’t matter. Has nothing to do with me.” At least that’s what I tell myself on a conscious level
-The day progresses and, you guessed it, more of the same. My wife calls me on her lunch break and is having a very difficult day of her own at work. She vents to me in an attempt to relieve some of her own stress. I understand and try to listen and be supportive. Unfortunately, although I do understand and empathize, without even realizing it, I just let that stress pile onto my own personal, already careening out of control, stress snowball!
-Throughout the day more and more of these little stresses take place without
any real awareness on my part of what’s happening to me in the big picture. The snowball is BUILDING. Sooner or later it’s bound to crash.
Any of this sounding familiar?
So what happens next? Do I go postal? No….I go grateful. Let me explain.
Relieving Stress by Being Grateful
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is a scientist who specializes in Positive Psychology at The University of California, Davis. He is also the world’s foremost authority on the subject of gratitude related happiness and stress management. He’s the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology and author of Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude can make you Happier.
In an in-depth scientific research study lasting more than 10 years, comprising of more than 1000 participants, Dr. Emmons examined the effects of gratitude on well-being, physical health, and on the relationships we share with the people in our lives.
In an article for the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Emmons tells us how his team collected data for their research participants.
“In a series of studies, my colleagues and I have helped people systematically cultivate gratitude, usually by keeping a “gratitude journal” in which they regularly record the things for which they’re grateful.
Gratitude journals and other gratitude practices often seem so simple and basic; in our studies, we often have people keep gratitude journals for just three weeks. And yet the results have been overwhelming. We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:”
Benefits of Gratitude on Relieving Stress
Following is a summary of some of those impressive findings Dr. Emmon’s 10+ year study uncovered for those participants who practiced gratitude on a regular basis.
- Participants were more outgoing
- They reported being more compassionate, more helpful, appreciateive and more forgiving
- They also felt less lonely and/or isolated
- Lower blood pressure
- Better immune systems
- Fewer aches & pains
- Improved quality of sleep and ability to awaken in the morning
- A better sense of alertness or a feeling of being more awake
- Experienced more positive emotions and sense of joy or pleasure
- Higher levels of happiness and optimism
Why Gratitude Creates Stress Relief
According to Dr. Emmons there are a lot of reasons that practicing gratitude helps us to be more healthy & happy. One of his findings caught my eye in particular:
“Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret—emotions that can destroy our happiness” says Emmons. “There’s even recent evidence, including a 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality, showing that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression. This makes sense: You cannot feel envious and grateful at the same time”
Could it all be this simple? Maybe it is.
Over the years I’ve read article after article, book after book claiming that negative emotions make us less healthy & happy. Why? Because they produce toxic chemicals in our bodies which deteriorate our physical and mental health.
This really seems to make a lot to sense if you consider Dr. Emmons research findings.
I know at least in my own life, practicing gratitude has definitely helped me to relieve stress.
Looking back, I can honestly say that when things are going relatively well in my life and when I am somewhat peaceful and happy, periods of consistent and conscious gratitude are part of my every day world.
Nothing hi-tech, time consuming or complicated- just taking a few minutes 2 or 3 times a day to pause, clear my head and think about the things in my life I’m grateful for.
Maybe I stop to think about my wife, my health or my my family & friends. Sometimes, like in this very moment, I stop and realize how fortunate I am to be making part of my living by doing something I really enjoy, like writing.
There is ALWAYS someone far less fortunate than we are. I try and never forget this fact. Things could be so much worse than they are for me in my life. I consider myself incredibly lucky.
I’m consider myself truly grateful!