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An image of a person practicing gratitude | How to practice gratitude

Learning how to practice gratitude can help you to shift your focus from the things you lack to the many blessings your life contains, even if you are suffering from a depressive episode.

Making a conscious decision to embrace what you have reflects a gratitude mindset. Taking a more positive approach to life is invaluable for anyone suffering from depression or any other mental health condition.

How Do I Practice Gratitude?

Gratitude is a state of appreciation and thankfulness. Research highlights an association between practicing gratitude and improved wellbeing.

Learning how to practice gratitude involves expressing your appreciation and thankfulness outwardly. When you master this skill, you will find it increasingly easier to take a more optimistic viewpoint.

While the theory of gratitude is straightforward, putting it into practice can be challenging. The frenetic pace of our connected world means it is easy for people to get caught up in day-to-day life, neglecting to reciprocate kindness or failing to express gratitude.

As a starting point, take a few moments to consider why you should express gratitude for the following:

  • One thing about your body.
  • Someone special in your life.
  • A challenge you are currently facing.
  • A valuable object you inherited.
  • Something valuable you recently learned.
  • A lesson from your experiences with mental health disorders.

To start cultivating a gratitude mindset, try focusing on something positive each time you feel negativity seeping into your thoughts.

Two of the most effective methods of practicing gratitude are:

  1. Gratitude journaling
  2. Meditation

We’ll highlight how you can implement these techniques, and we’ll also give you some more tips on practicing gratitude as part of your daily routine. Before that, what are the benefits of cultivating a more positive mindset?

Gratitude and the Brain

Gratitude is defined as a positive emotion.

Studies show that practicing gratitude every day can impart positive, long-lasting effects, including:

  • More pleasure and joy.
  • Reduced feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • More positive emotions experienced.
  • Higher motivation levels.
  • Better quality and quantity of sleep.
  • Reduced blood pressure levels.
  • Enhanced immune function.

Practicing gratitude leads to improved overall wellbeing and can also trigger positive changes to brain function.

The more you express gratitude for what you have and the more you express kindness to others, levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are increased in the brain. These chemical messengers are both associated with a positive mood. Dopamine causes feelings of happiness and pleasure, while serotonin plays a key role in mood regulation.

If you practice gratitude, this also causes an increased release of oxytocin. This is a hormone and neurotransmitter associated with positive feelings like compassion, generosity, and trust.

Additionally, practicing gratitude can also help you to reduce or eliminate destructive emotions like:

  • Resentment
  • Anger
  • Bitterness
  • Envy
  • Jealousy

This 2021 study shows that consistently practicing gratitude can help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Learning how to practice gratitude when depressed can play a valuable part in your overall treatment plan.

An image of a woman meditating | How to practice gratitude

How to Practice Gratitude Daily

According to Robert Emmons, psychology professor and gratitude expert, there are two components of effectively practicing gratitude:

Affirming the good things in your life.

  • Acknowledging the role that others play in enriching your life with goodness.
  • Gratitude is a skill that can be both learned and consolidated.

Like any skill, gratitude can be learned and strengthened.

Three of the most effective approaches to becoming more gratitude-focused are:

  1. Daily gratitude journaling
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Meditation

We will highlight what you can expect from these approaches below.

Some more simple tips to help you practice gratitude daily:

Set aside ten minutes each day. Think of three things you are thankful for. If you perform this exercise every morning, it can positively impact your mood throughout the day. Many therapists will suggest those with depression carry out this daily exercise.

Thanks to someone new each week. This can help you to express your gratitude in different ways.

Focus more on the intentions of others and how they bring good into your life.

Of all the practices related to gratitude, daily gratitude journaling arguably offers the widest and most immediate benefits.

Daily Gratitude Journaling

Whether you buy a gratitude journal or use a notebook or electronic device, start gratitude journaling right now with the following prompts:

List three things you are thankful for today.

Are you grateful to be engaging with mental health treatment?

Are you also grateful for being abstinent from addictive substances?

As you start to express your gratitude more regularly in your journal, you should find you more naturally seek out the positive in life.

Here are some pointers to help you get the most out of gratitude journaling:

  • Be specific when expressing gratitude.
  • Consider subtraction – be grateful for negative outcomes you managed to prevent or avoid as well as positive outcomes.
  • Record gratitude for unexpected events.
  • Get as personal as possible rather than focusing mainly on objects or possessions.
  • Go into detail without worrying about anyone reading your words.
  • Write regularly. Even if you don’t want to use a gratitude journal daily, set and stick to a fixed schedule for best results.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness is a state of being aware of and focusing on the present moment.

Mindfulness is used in many meditation practices and is also sometimes used as a component of some types of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) such as DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). Mindfulness is also used in the following treatment methods:

  • MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction)
  • MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy)

Practicing mindfulness can reshape your brain in positive ways and promote improved mental and physical health.

Use these three simple techniques to start practicing mindfulness today:

  1. Focus fully on the present moment.
  2. Concentrate on your breathing.
  3. Acknowledge thoughts but dismiss those thoughts.

1) Focus fully on the present moment

If you feel you are often moving through life on autopilot, learn to enjoy every moment more fully.

Rather than chatting while sending an SMS, pondering the past, or obsessing about future uncertainty, instead focus fully on the present moment.

Start by paying attention to small things like the sensation of the soap on your body in the shower or the texture and taste of the food you are eating. The more you start becoming aware of these small sensations, the more firmly you will feel anchored to the present.

2) Concentrate on your breathing

If you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious, focusing on your breathing can help you to center your attention and regain emotional control.

Use opportunities like waiting in line or waiting at a stoplight to start practicing this approach to stress-reduction and mindfulness.

3) Acknowledge thoughts but dismiss those thoughts

Practicing mindfulness will help you to release harmful ideas and unfounded beliefs that can impair mental health.

If you find yourself feeling depressed or anxious, take a moment to remind yourself that you can allow those thoughts to pass.

Meditation

Meditation has been a traditional spiritual practice in many cultures for thousands of years. The discipline can also be performed apart from religious beliefs for improved mental health. Meditation can also be an invaluable component of addiction recovery.

There are many different types of meditation, and they share three core elements:

  1. Attention to the present moment.
  2. Relaxation combined with focus.
  3. Non-judgmental attitude toward self and others.

These are some of the most common types of meditation:

  • Mindfulness meditation: You practice mindfulness meditation in a peaceful setting. You should sit in a comfortable position focusing your full attention on the present moment. As thoughts and feelings flow, observe those thoughts with detachment and without judgment or engagement.
  • Breathing meditation: Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. As you breathe, focus on the inhalation and exhalation. Breathe slowly and deeply. Relax your muscles. If your mind wanders, refocus on your breathing. This form of meditation is intended to calm the mind and to promote inner tranquility.
  • Moving meditation: Moving meditation involves practicing mindfulness while moving around. The activity should be focused – yoga, tai chi, or walking, for example. Focus on your movements and the way your body feels and flows. Also, pay attention to smells and sounds.
  • Guided meditation: With guided meditation, a facilitator leads you through a visualization exercise. You sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take deep, relaxing breaths. The facilitator guides you through a scenario. You will use your imagination to feel states of peace, happiness, growth, or connection.
  • Mantra meditation: A mantra is a sound, phrase, or word that you repeat continually during meditation. You can vocalize the mantra or say it silently to yourself. By calming the mind, mantra meditation can improve clarity and stillness while promoting relaxation and minimizing stress.

If you would like help with any of these methods of practicing gratitude, learn how we can help you at LATN.

Getting Help at Los Angeles Therapy Network

Here at Los Angeles Therapy Network, we can connect you with a variety of mental health services.

In addition to anxiety treatment and depression treatment, you can take advantage of a wide variety of therapies from CBT and DBT to family therapy and holistic therapies.

We can also help connect you with both drug rehab and alcohol rehab if you have a dual diagnosis (addiction and co-occurring mental health disorder).

By practicing gratitude as well as engaging with mental health treatment, you can start thriving rather than surviving. Reach out to Los Angeles Therapy Network today at 833.604.1287.

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