Can feeling grateful make you healthier? Thankfully, it can!
Let’s explore exactly how gratitude affects health.
Gratitude, or feeling thankful, is one of those emotions that is really easy to feel when something good happens in life. Your mood soars and your body feels energized but relaxed. Your threshold for frustration and anger goes way up. When you’re feeling grateful, it takes a lot to bring you down.
That’s a great place to be because it means everything within you is in sync. Sure, there are emotions at play. But I assure you, emotions and physical health are intertwined. There is no mind versus body. The mind, or emotion, is part of the body. Emotions directly impact the functioning of your central nervous system, including all of the stuff that happens automatically – heart rate, breathing, body temperature, circulation, etc. To illustrate, think of a time when you felt scared and how your body responded to that fear. That full-body response is a result of the connection of the central nervous system to every other system of the body. So doesn’t it make sense then that emotions can negatively or positively affect overall health?
Gratitude sends the stress response packing.
Now recall a specific instance when you felt thankful for something. Think about your emotions and your body’s reaction. It was likely quite the opposite of how your body responded to the fearful experience, right? While in that state of gratitude, you were as far-removed from negative emotions like anger, fear, frustration or worry as you could get. In fact, you couldn’t be feeling negative emotions or stress at the same time you were feeling thankful. It’s an impossibility. When you feel thankful, you can’t be stressed out. No, seriously. Your body is incapable of initiating a stress response while you are experiencing feelings of gratitude or appreciation. This is a very, very good thing!
Let’s dig a little deeper into the workings of the “stress response”. Under normal conditions, your body produces energy for maintenance, repair, and regeneration. Or, simply put, for health and healing. When something stresses you out, that energy must be redirected to help you “get away” from whatever threat you are facing. Back in the day it could’ve been a wild animal. Today it’s less likely that your survival is being threatened, but a traffic jam, money problems, loss of a loved one, relationship issues, or simply too much to do in too little time can trigger the exact same response. All energy is now mobilized and is rushed to the extremities. Your body burns through nutrients quickly for fuel, and functions like digestion and detoxification, deemed unnecessary for survival at that moment in time, slow down or even stop altogether. Your immune system stops functioning at 100%, as circulating levels of immune cells and antibodies plunge. Now you have little or no defense against disease and no way to keep cell or DNA damage in check.
The body’s physiological reaction to stress as described above is actually a good thing if it happens in the face of a real threat. Once that threat is gone, all returns to normal and you will recover. But you can probably imagine how bad the stress response can be for your health if it’s being triggered 24/7!
Here’s the cool part: gratitude completely wipes out your body’s stress response. It’s nutrition for the soul. No matter how bad your day has been or how awful things are going in your life, finding something to feel thankful for, no matter how small, will send your body’s energy right back to those functions that are critical to your health and well-being. You are directing your energy from the stress response, which tears the body down, back to restoration mode – which allows for relaxation and healing.
What if you feel you have nothing to be thankful for?
Being able to control your body’s stress response through feelings of gratitude can be huge when it comes to your health. But it’s not always easy to do. What if you feel like you have nothing to be thankful for?
Look around you. Pick something. Anything. A chair. The sun shining in through the window. Your ability to breathe. Your ability to wiggle your toes. Above love and other heart-based emotions, gratitude is actually one of the easiest things to feel and the quickest to shift your attitude and perceptions. All you have to do is pick something, anything, in that moment, to appreciate. Even in the worst of times you are surrounded by blessings that you likely take for granted simply because they’re so familiar. These are still significant and can be viewed with gratitude.
The bottom line.
Gratitude is yet another valuable tool that can be used to strengthen your body and mind. At first glance, it may not seem like it has anything whatsoever to do with physical health, but hopefully you now understand how much this feeling can influence the nervous system and, in turn, influence all other functions of the body.
And there’s good news! Although it may be tough to practice gratitude at first, especially if things aren’t exactly going well at the time, research has shown that once you experience gratitude, it becomes easier to obtain that feeling again. In other words, the more you feel thankful, the more you’ll feel thankful!
On that note, I want to thank YOU for stopping by and reading this article. As usual, if you have any questions about any of this, or if you would like help with your specific health concern or imbalance, schedule a 15-minute free phone session with me at your convenience so we can chat.
Best of health!
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