According to a recent poll, 90 percent of Americans feel that the country is experiencing a mental health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many stressors that increase the risk for substance use and mental health, such as job stability and medical care. And more than one in five Americans report their own mental health as being ‘fair’ or ‘poor.’
While mental health is a complex issue with no single cause or solution, many experts believe that a lack of coping skills is contributing to the crisis. Perhaps you recognize your own struggles and how they are impacting your mental health. Could something as simple as practicing gratitude change your brain chemistry and improve your mental health?
With Thanksgiving just a few short weeks away, let’s explore the importance of practicing gratitude.
New Research on Gratitude and Mental Health
One of the biggest hurdles for mental health professionals is achieving the greatest results in the shortest amount of time. Recent evidence suggests one way to achieve this is by complementing psychological counseling with additional activities such as gratitude.
Over the years, many studies have shown that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed. The issue is that most of these studies have been done on people with good mental health. Now, researchers are looking at how gratitude can be beneficial for those who struggle with their mental health.
One study did set out to do exactly this. The study consisted of mostly college students who were receiving counseling at a university. Participants were assigned to one of three groups. Group 1 was instructed to write a letter of gratitude each week for three weeks. Group 2 was instructed to write about their deepest negative experiences, and Group 3 did not do any writing.
Compared to the participants who wrote about negative experiences or didn’t write at all, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health. Additional insights gathered from the study are:
- Gratitude releases toxic emotions
- Writing gratitude letters are effective whether shared or not
- Benefits of practicing gratitude are seen over time – they are not immediate
- Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain
How Gratitude Impacts the Brain
So how exactly does gratitude affect the brain? The above study found that those who practiced gratitude had brain activity that was distinct from brain activity related to guilt. And, when people are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to share with others. By supporting a cause, individuals show greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain responsible for learning and decision making.
People who practice gratitude consistently also see other advantages:
- More positive emotions
- Feeling of being alert and alive
- Greater joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immune system
- Better overall health
- Improved sleep habits
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Helpful, generous and compassionate
- Less likely to be lonely or isolated
Cultivate Gratitude with a Life Coach in Los Angeles
As you can see, there are many benefits to practicing gratitude. This is not something you should do in November only. Instead, this is a great month to kickstart this healthy habit. Book a life coaching session with Jack Rourke to learn how you can cultivate gratitude and lead a happier, fulfilled life.