According to Hippocrates, “Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.” This innate power is something we all can tap into easily with just one thing—gratitude.
Gratitude involves thanking everything in your world and highlighting the brighter, positive things around you. It’s a matter of focusing on what you have vs what you don’t, which has a healing effect on us.
Gratitude includes both thanking ourselves and others, thanking nature, thanking everything, really, and being mindful in the moment of everything that there is to appreciate.
This is actually our natural inclination, however, somewhere along the way, humans have wandered away from gratitude and focused more on what they don’t have, what they want, what they need and what is lacking. This emptiness doesn’t serve us spiritually, emotionally or physically.
When we take time to appreciate the positive parts of our life, the universe gifts us with more positivity. The same thing happens on the flip-side—see all the negative and more will be drawn to you.
Gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools to increasing your health and wellness. It costs nothing and yet, is priceless. The return on investment is endless—and it only takes a few moments to bring its blessings into your life. When things change within you, things change around you. The power of gratitude is contagious.
Research on gratitude proves its ability to promote better health—increasing sleep quality, lowering blood pressure, offering greater healing abilities in managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, increasing energy and motivation to exercise, decreasing pain and improving clinical depression and anxiety.
Gratitude has the ability to affect your immune system, guarding you from potential illness and pathogens.Researchers observed that law students under stress and lack of sleep who self-identified as being optimistic and showing daily gratitude actually had more measurable disease-fighting cells in their bodies. In another study, grateful participants reported fewer health issues (headaches, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory infections, colds and flu) than participants who were not as optimistic and positive about life.
In a study of over 400 people, 40% of which reporting frequent insomnia, participants who practiced gratitude were more apt to fall asleep quicker, have better sleep quality and steady energy levels throughout their day.
Other studies show that looking at the glass half full rather than half empty also positively affects other bodily systems.
In an 8 week study study of 186 patients with heart failure, participants who were more grateful and practiced daily gratitude journaling showed a reduction in inflammatory markers (CRP, IL-6, TNF-α and sTNFr1), which translates to better heart health and function.
Gratitude may even help improve recovery outcomes following a heart attack. In the Gratitude Research in Acute Coronary Events (GRACE) study (Huffman et al), participants recovering from an MI event who demonstrated a more optimistic outlook had improvements in vascular function within two weeks compared to patients who were less grateful.
Scientific evidence linking gratitude and positive health outcomes is not new. In a 1977 10-week study on the effects of gratitude in treating hypertension involving inner-city African American participants, gratitude demonstrated to have a statistically significant decrease in systolic blood pressure compared to the less gratitude-practicing control group.
The effects of gratitude also impact blood sugar levels in diabetics. Those who are more grateful have significantly lower A1C levels than those with a “glass half empty” approach to life. Unmanaged A1C levels can lead to chronic kidney disease, heart failure, coronary artery disease, cancer and other serious risk factors, including death.
Of course, gratitude plays a huge role on the brain-- elevating mood, reducing anxiety and even altering the physical construct of brain tissue.
Simply keeping a daily gratitude journal for several weeks has positive outcomes on depression, reducing depressive symptoms by 35%, according to a study on gratitude journaling.
Research on gratitude’s effect on stress showed a reduction in cortisol levels, demonstrating that stress hormones are influenced greatly by our thoughts. The hypothalamus is responsible for managing stress. Gratitude positively influences activities of the hypothalamus, which regulates emotions. Gratitude also affects the hippocampus and amygdala, which activate emotions and memory.
In addition, when we express and receive gratitude, our brain releases the “feel good” neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin.
Those who express high levels of gratitude have increased grey matter in the brain. Meditation had similar effects; those who practiced frequent meditation (at least ten minutes daily) also had significantly larger volumes of the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus, as seen by high-resolution MRI. These regions of the brain regulate emotions and emotional response.
Practicing gratitude can be as simple as waking up every morning and thinking about 3 things you are grateful for in your life. It can be as easy as being mindful of the little things in your life that you appreciate. It starts with identifying when you are being negative and quickly changing your mindset to focus on aspects that bring you joy.
Gratefulness.org provides a free online platform for gratitude journaling. It doesn’t require a daily commitment and even sparks your positive thinking with questions of the day that may be utilized as a springboard for igniting more positivity in your life.
If managing stress and anxiety makes it too difficult for you to currently focus on the bright side, find natural ways to minimize the negative effects of lack of sleep, depression and anxiety that interfere with mindfulness and our ability to connect with the power of gratitude.
Low levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that can impact anxiety, depression and insomnia, can affect the nervous system and your overall mood. Supplementing with GABA improves sleep and helps increase feelings of relaxation.
Magnesium is the calming and relaxing mineral responsible for over 300 bodily functions. Supplementing with magnesium can prevent restlessness, irritability and anxiety.
L-theanine is an amino acid found naturally in certain foods, such as almonds, bananas and green tea. L-theanine reduces stress and creates a calming effect on the brain, which also improves sleep quality. These effects are related to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and influence brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and GABA.
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