A positive, calm and drama free life is something that most of us are striving for. But the stresses and strains of everyday life often get in the way of this utopian dream. Especially so at the moment, when everything is still so unclear, pandemic wise.
We’ve all got work to do, bills to pay and tasks to tick off our to-do lists. The days turn into weeks, which turn into months and suddenly, it’s almost Christmas again. In other words, stress plays a starring role in many of our lives.
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Sure, we can plan our weeks to help us reduce stress. We can adopt peace-making habits such as making time for practicing yoga and mindfulness.
But is there anything else we can do to make our lives feel a little less dramatic?
Well, as it turns out, there is, and it’s something that we can all do in just a minute or two every day - practicing gratitude.
In a world where it’s easy to allow our mind to drift towards the negatives and give them more than the time of day they deserve, paying attention to the positives in our lives can really help to reduce stress.
The mind naturally focuses on negatives, so it’s worth making a concerted effort to focus on the positive things every day. Here’s the how and why on gratitude as a stress buster.
What Exactly is Gratitude?
According to the dictionary, gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”. And with words such as “thankful”, “appreciation” and “kindness” in one definition, gratitude sure is doing good things.
Gratitude isn’t necessarily giving thanks and appreciation to a person for giving us something, although that’s very nice. It’s also a feeling of gratefulness for the things in our life, some of which may have been given to us, others may have been hard earned by ourselves - and some may just, well, be there.
It’s all about taking a moment to appreciate what we have and even what we did have or will have. It’s feeling thankful for all the good bits. It’s acknowledging what we have to be thankful for.
How to Practice Gratitude
Feeling gratitude is a positive quality, but it isn’t always that easy when our minds get clouded by negative thoughts, overwhelm and feeling hard done by (which we all do).
But right now, as you read, think of something positive. It could be the dog asleep at your feet or the smile from the checkout assistant this morning. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing (aside from reading this of course), think of something positive that happened or is happening in your life today.
Feels good, right? Now think of another if you can.
I’m not preaching that we should all float through life, smiling graciously as if nothing negative is happening, because it is. Even if not in our own lives right now, negative stuff is happening all over the world and we shouldn’t completely ignore it.
But being grateful for something in our own lives helps us foster a more positive attitude. Being thankful all the time probably isn't possible. But training our brains to focus on the positives will help us to have an overall sunnier outlook on life.
(Here’s where I should probably add something profound about taking the rough with the smooth, but I’m not really one for clichés…)
Use a Journal
Writing down the things you’re grateful for in a gratitude diary is also helpful. It marks down forever all the things you felt were good at a certain point in your life. When you’re feeling down and negative thoughts are all encompassing, it’s good to take a look back at previous positive thoughts.
As I'm writing this, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I’m grateful for, today and in life in general. There’s the normal stuff, like all the beautiful people around me. My circle is small, purposefully so, and carefully curated to contain only those who bring me, and me them, joy, comfort, respect and laughter, plus an uplift during the bad times.
I’m also thankful for my job - I write on a freelance basis and I have a wonderful set of appreciative clients who value my work (and pay on time!). I also have my health and I’m fit and able to do all the things I want to do.
But then there’s the smaller stuff too, that it’s all too easy to take for granted. Like the fact my home office window has a lovely view of the greenery in the lovingly tended front garden opposite. Or that I’m going out for an Indian meal tomorrow.
Also, I’m so very thankful for the recent John Lewis insurance advert that has reminded me of and rekindled my love for Stevie Nicks.
Anyway, I’ll stop now, for fear of this turning onto a therapy session for myself. But I urge you, dear committed reader, to take some time to think about all the things, big and small, that you’re grateful for. If not right now then definitely later today on the commute home or whilst making dinner or brushing your teeth before bed. It’s extremely cathartic.
You could try for three positive things a day, written down in your gratitude diary or logged in your mind.
How Does Gratitude Help to Relieve Stress?
Gratitude really does have an impact on our brains. If you’d like to read an incredibly in depth but engaging article on the neuroscience of gratitude, this article from Positive Psychology is excellent.
In a nutshell, research shows that those of us who feel thankful are more likely to be happier and more satisfied with life, have stronger relationships and appreciation for loved ones and importantly, live our lives feeling less stressed.
Many of the studies into the link between cultivating gratitude and experiencing less stress talk about emotional resilience - the ability to mentally bounce back from negative events and happenings.
Gratitude helps us feel more balanced and more able to deal with the negative things that life throws at us. And it makes sense really, doesn’t it? Building up a wall of resilience by consciously being thankful for positivity will make us deal with the opposite with less stress and angst.
Sort of, “Oh, you want to throw an unexpected report deadline at me, do you? Well it’s a good job that I have such a wonderfully supportive family waiting for me when I get home!” Rather than allowing the report deadline to just rest on top of all the other stress making things in life and accepting it as just another one.
What Does All this Have to Do with Our Skin?
Ah, we’re very glad you asked, as we are a skincare company, after all.
As we’ve written about many times before, stress can affect the skin, accelerating skin conditions such as acne, and causing the skin to stress out too.
Some level of stress is good for us, it gives us our fight or flight response. But long term, chronic stress can lead to many different physical and emotional health problems, including poorly behaving skin.
Reducing our stress levels, by whatever means including by using gratitude as a tool for cultivating positivity, will have a positive impact on our skin. (As will using the Sönd skincare range of alkalising products designed for skin that’s stressed out and non conformist, of course…)
So, what are you grateful for today? Your skin may well be grateful for it too.