The Neuroscience Of Gratitude And How It Affects Anxiety, Depression And Mental Health

Did you know just how important it is to show gratitude for what you have or are provided with? If you are blessed with the perfect family, a good job or an ideal one that you’ve always wanted to do, stable finances with some money tucked away for a rainy day or a healthy life, you should be grateful. Even being grateful for the little things in your life can make a real difference to your mental wellbeing, provide an improvement in mood and optimism, as well as motivate you to seek more improvements in your life and for those around you.

I used to look down at the floor when I was walking to and from the pharmacy when I went to collect my MAT medication daily, only noticing the blackness of the tarmac and the blandness of the curbstones.

Now I make an active effort to look upwards when I walk outdoors. I now notice birds singing, the fresh smelling sea air, the funny shapes in the clouds and the great little treats that nature provides when you least expect it!

G Thompson – Reader of the Drink ‘n’ Drugs blog

Sparing that few, short minutes each day to thank what you already have, look forward to what’s ahead and the negativity that’s been left behind is what it takes to make your experience even more joyful.

So, What Exactly Does Gratitude Mean & How Does It Affect Me?

The word gratitude originates from the latin word gratia. It is the state of being grateful or showing thankfulness.

Oxford latin dictionary

To understand how the power of gratitude works and can influence your daily life, we’re going to look at the following:

  1. Gratitude & Happiness
  2. Gratitude & Health
  3. Gratitude & Professional Commitment
  4. The Neuroscience Of Gratitude

Gratitude & Happiness

Gratitude can improve your interpersonal relationships, both at home and at work. This can bring you happiness and provide some extra motivation when certain times are lacking of such motivation! When you show appreciation to yourself and towards others, you induce a positive emotion, which is technically happiness. So our overall health and wellbeing are impacted by the feelings of pleasure and contentment derived from showing gratitude and being grateful for what you have, the positive things that you will gain and the negative things that you’ve lost. All of these ways of looking at gratitude can help you to become more grateful for things when at certain moments in time, life doesn’t seem being greateful for.

According to a study conducted by the British psychologist Robert Holden, 65% of people choose happiness over health. However, both are of equal magnitude as far as good health is concerned. So in his study, he concluded that the state of unhappiness is the root of many psychopathological conditions like depression, anxiety and stress, just to mention a few.

There has long been evidence to show that being happy improves your overall health, improves pre-existing mental and physical health conditions. This provides just one good reason why actively practising the act of gratitude and being grateful will not only benefit your life, but that of those friends and family members who are around you.

Gratitude & Health

According to some researches, grateful people are healthy and happy. This is because they have lower levels of stress and depression levels, and they can cope better with adversity, and above all they can sleep better than they could before. These people tend to be happier and are more likely to be more satisfied with their life. So on top of being grateful, keeping a gratitude journal or list is also beneficial to your overall health. It reduces the stress level and chemicals that can cause a physical response to sustained stress, improves your overall quality of sleep and also helps you to build emotional self-awareness.

Gratitude & Professional Commitment

If you want to build your professional commitment, then being grateful is a powerful place to start. Organisations who employ staff or volunteers who are grateful are more efficient, productive and above all, responsible.

How to Make a Gratitude List: 11 Steps (with Pictures) - wikiHow

Showing gratitude in the workplace is imperative in building an interpersonal relationships with colleagues, customers and suppliers. It can trigger feelings of closeness, bonding and being part of an effective team. If you are an employee who shows gratitude, then you are more likely to be loved and respected by others within an those who use your organisation.

Neuroscience Of Gratitude

According to neuroscience research, there is a link between positive thoughts and activation of certain neurotransmitters within the brain. Putting the technicalities aside, if you focus your attention on things you are grateful for, you stimulate neurotransmitters in your brain (dopamine and serotonin) to promote feelings of contentment, happiness, positivity and enjoyment.

The brain of an addict is altered both physically and chemically from our active use of drugs and alcohol. If we actively try to think positively and become grateful for our progress, we can help our brain to heal from the chronic damage that’s done to it over the months, years or even decades that we used or drank through.

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The study of neuroscience and gratitude is broad and would probably take a whole chapter just to look at this one subject. What you need to understand is that people have different neurochemicals in their central nervous system, and this is why some are naturally more grateful than others.

More specifically, research has found that when people who are generally more grateful or gave money to a good cause or charity, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that’s associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express their gratitude for the things they have and those people that they have around them. You can learn more about the science, anatomy and physiology surrounding gratitude and the brain by clicking here.

See the source image

Now that you understand the benefits of gratitude and it’s impacts on your life, it would be a great time to learn how you can practice it and benefit from this small, yet important aspect within your daily life.

So The Question Is, How To Practice Gratitude In Your Daily Life? Here Is Our Top 10 Ideas

The following are a few ways of practicing gratitude.

  1. Keep a gratitude journal or list.
  2. Show your love to someone and tell him, her or them how much you appreciate having them in your life.
  3. Nature the friendships you have
  4. Smile to both people you know, and possibily more importantly, those you don’t know regularly
  5. Spend each day showing kindness
  6. Stop using modern technology and simply look out a window, smell the air, look at the sky or the little things happening around you that you or others may have otherwised missed had you been distracted with social media, technology or gadgets.
  7. Purposly make time to go outdoors alone, or with others where possible to enjoy nature.
  8. Make something for someone you love or are grateful to have in your life.
  9. When you feel sad, angry or depressed, counteract these emotion by writing down or thinking of 5 things that you are grateful for in that very moment in time.
  10. Spend time volunteering to help those who have less than you or are currently in a position that you have been in the past. This provides “feel good” emotions for you and also benefits others who are currently less fortunate than you.

By helping addicts who are currently still in active use can help to provide them with the care and support they need to get themselves clean and sober.

It also helps ourselves to be grateful for the progress we’ve made and that any of us could end up back in that same situation if we don’t keep our eye on the metaphorical ball that is our recovery!

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Mental health therapies can also help to shape our thoughts patterns and behaviours to focus on gratitude and to promote happiness and a peaceful co-existence within our own communities. If we focus our mindset on doing good for ourselves and others, then we will have what it takes to accomplish the endeavors in our lives and in the lives of others.

Gratitude Lists
An Exmple Of Someone Else’s Gratitude List

Research Into Gratitude & It’s Effects On The Body And Mind

With the rise of managed health care, which emphasises cost-efficiency and brevity, mental health professionals have had to confront this burning question: How can they help patients and service users derive the greatest possible benefit from treatments and therapies in the shortest amount of time?

Recent evidence suggests that a promising approach is to complement psychological counselling with additional activities that are not too taxing for clients, but yield high results. In our research, we have zeroed in on one such activity: the practice of gratitude. Indeed, many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.

The problem is that most research studies on gratitude have been conducted with well-functioning people.

Is Gratitude Beneficial For People Who Struggle With Mental Health & Addiction Concerns? And, If So, How?

Researchers set out to address these questions in a recent research study involving nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counselling at a chosen university. They recruited these participants just before they began their first session of counselling, and on average they reported clinically low levels of mental health at the time. The majority of people seeking counselling and other therapeatic services at this university in general struggled with issues related to depression, anxiety and general stress.

They randomly assigned their study participants into three groups. Although all three groups received counselling services, the first group was also instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity at all.

What did they find? Compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counselling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.

This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with a variety of mental health concerns. In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counselling and therapy carries greater benefits than just receiving counselling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.

And that’s not all. When they dug deeper into their results, they found indications of how gratitude might actually work on the minds and bodies of the participants of the experiment. You can find out what these were by clicking on the link here. However, other research experiments are needed on a bigger scale to see how this collelates with other areas of healthcare such as addiction, chronic pain management and others. You can also read our previous article about creating your own gratitude lists or journals, and how to make the most of them by clicking here.

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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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