A while back, when I was fighting terrible anxiety at night, someone recommended I start a gratitude journal. I liked the idea, so I went out and bought a journal that I wrote in for exactly two nights. Somehow having a journal that forced me to think about everything I was grateful for stressed me out. (Did I mention I suffer from anxiety??) So I gave up the journal and found other ways to cope. However, sometimes I still become overwhelmed with my "problems" and lose sight of the big picture. Recently, I started doing something each night that has really helped me ground myself and recognize that I have so much to be grateful for.
It started when the photos of the Syrian refugees started pouring in. I couldn't stop thinking of the scared women, men, and especially children who were on those boats risking their lives because they had no other choice. Mothers sending their kids off alone, in hopes they might escape the violence and have a better life away from them. It all seemed incomprehensible and I couldn't even begin to imagine what they were going through. So, each night whenever I felt a surge of anxiety about tasks that I had yet to complete, things I had awkwardly said at a party, whether or not I look at my cell phone in front of my daughter too much, or that so-and-so's life looks so much more put together than mine, I close my eyes and try to concentrate on the feeling of my bed and the fact that I even have a bed. I let my head sink into my pillow and wrap the comforter around me tightly and just really think about how lucky I am for the singular luxury of a bed. I actively try to not think of anything but my bed and my body against it. Suddenly, everything else seems less important and just the fact that I have the bed is enough. In the moment, I feel so lucky and grateful about everything in my life.
That being said, there are some nights that anxiety stills wins. The thing about anxiety and panic attacks is that they are physical reactions and are completely irrational. So, rationally giving yourself perspective doesn't always work. However, even if this doesn't push the crazy thoughts out of my head, it is still helpful and important to really take notice daily of just how incredibly lucky we are. I've found myself giving back more, having more empathy for others and have become more contemplative about wants vs needs since starting this simple exercise.
According to this great article in the NY Times, just taking a moment to feel gratitude will make you a much happier person. The article cites a recent study, that a group of people who wrote down what they are thankful for each day were more satisfied and happy than those who didn't. (Ignore the part in the article that says that giving thanks might make you fat!) While the author takes a different approach than my bed exercise and encourages you to find a new small thing each day to be thankful for, even just the smell of the fall air, the gist is the same. I also love how he urges you to express gratitude to others, not just quietly to yourself. I need to remember to thank my friends and family more often, not just after they do something for me.
This quote above also changed my thinking of my own hardships, helping me keep things in perspective. I think about it all the time when I feel stressed. And this cartoon reminded me that we are often born into our luck and we should be cognizant of our own privilege.
I hope everyone takes a moment tomorrow to be grateful for what they have, even if it's just your bed. And even better if you make it a part of your everyday routine- it will only make you happier and more satisfied. I also have hope that if everyone took a moment to give thanks everyday, the world might be a better and kinder place.
(anxious in bed comic via toothpaste for dinner, quote via Regina Brett, all other images, jamie grill photography )