03 Aug The Benefits of Acknowledging Gratitude
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily stressors of everyday life. We all have experienced the feelings of being stressed and overwhelmed or angry and frustrated that life isn’t exactly going how we had hoped or planned. As a result, we become distressed.
In the DBT module of Distress Tolerance, one of the hardest concepts for the adolescents and young adults that I work with to grasp is the idea of the distraction technique of Comparison. The skill suggests comparing oneself to those less fortunate, or to a time in which one felt differently.
“But when I am in that mindset, that’s impossible and pointless and will just make me feel worse.”
It may absolutely feel that way. When we are in our darkest, most dysregulated moments, it’s hard to think, “Oh, well, this isn’t so bad. Somebody out there has it worse than I do.” The truth is, pain is pain. Feelings are always real, despite what another person is feeling or what another person’s circumstances may be. Especially when one is feeling in a dark place, it can seem too hard to think out of the box of the moment, or to get into the mindset that things aren’t so bad.
And… are things so bad?
They may be. And things also may be okay.
Let’s look at the dialectic: two opposite ideas or truths may be true at the same time. You may feel completely down on your luck. And you may also be incredibly lucky. Things may be terrible, and they also may be okay.
How to remind yourself of this?
I strongly suggest getting in the habit of writing a gratitude list: an act that not only is a distraction technique, but is a mindfulness activity, and a great practice of staying in a dialectical mindset. It can be practiced daily, or it can be practiced when a reminder is needed that not everything is so terrible.
The directions are simple: Take at least three minutes and write down everything you feel grateful for.
“I can’t do it. I’m not grateful for anything.”
I challenge my clients to find something to be grateful for. Anything. Nothing on that list can be too large, or too small. Maybe the only thing on that list is that you enjoyed the cereal you had for breakfast because it tasted good. Or maybe it’s that the sun was shining. Or that it was cold and you have a nice jacket. Or your dog licked you before you left the house and greeted you when you came home.
Often, what happens, is a chain reaction of things to be grateful for. You are grateful for the cereal, but you are also grateful for the fact that you have a fridge full of food to eat. And grateful that you have parents who work and provide the food, and that you have a dog. Then you remember that you not only have a jacket, but also have a roof over your head when you are cold. Gratitude can be contagious in the best way possible. It also has numerous health benefits.
Major publications such as the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/science/a-serving-of-gratitude-brings-healthy-dividends.html?_r=1&) and Harvard Medical School (http://www.intelihealth.com/article/the-mental-health-benefits-of-gratitude?hd=Minding (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2011/November/in-praise-of-gratitude) have previously written articles citing the benefits of adopting a practice of gratitude into everyday life. When gratitude is practiced as an addendum to DBT, it can also serve as both a mindfulness tool and a great distraction technique. Chances are, you are already grateful. Seeing what you are grateful for on paper can be powerful, mood-changing, and self-soothing.
Go ahead, start listing!
-Jaime Gleicher, LMSW Licensed Social Worker
Linehan, MM (1993) Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, The Guilford Press, NY, NY.