The Impact of Gratitude on Anxiety, Depression, Self-Esteem and Well-being:

As I write this article, the sun is shining and it's a beautiful day here in Ely (although by the time you are reading this it may well have turned back cold and wet!). And on a sunny day like today it's often easier to take a few moments here and there to be grateful for the sunshine and to enjoy the surroundings for a moment.

People do seem to be a lot chirpier when Spring arrives and to be much more appreciative of being able to get out and enjoy the good weather and to go and do things with the warmth of the sun pouring down upon them.

Certainly last weekend when I headed out with my girls I deliberately took a few moments to just make sure I was in the moment when I was with them so I could pay them full attention and to take some time to enjoy being out in the open around all the trees and nature and so on. And today I took some time to record a little vlog on the benefits of gratitude and how it can help boost well-being, happiness, self-esteem and more. Given all we know about the benefits of gratitude and appreciation it really does make sense from a mental health perspective to cultivate it purposefully...more on that later.

It may just be me, but one thing I like to do on my daily walk to the office is to keep count of how many people take a brief moment to show gratitude and appreciation for small acts by other people. On my route to the office I often encounter many parents who are in the process of dropping off their kids or who have just done so, along with others who are heading to work or even out walking the dog or running. I find it almost automatic to do things like move to one side to let them pass on their way, or to move onto the road so they can continue along the pavement.

And it is actually quite surprising how many people do not acknowledge even small acts of benevolence from another person (about 50% if you're interested). Not that it's worth getting wound up about (because worrying or getting annoyed about what someone else does or doesn't do is futile) but I do wonder whether they take the same attitude into the rest of their day and into work and friendships and so on. Often these people seem (from the outside) to be pretty unhappy and I wonder if they get annoyed and frustrated at their kids, colleagues and friends when they receive the same lack of thanks and appreciation from them. 

Yet regardless of what other people say and do (and regardless of my daily contemplations!), there is much to be gained from deliberately fostering an attitude of gratitude and putting it into practice for ourselves to boost our own well-being and happiness and to help with anxiety and depression. 

The Impact of Gratitude on Depression and Anxiety

It was a lovely sunny day when I recorded this short video about the benefits of gratitude and why you should adopt a mind-set and attitude of gratitude if you want to enjoy better self-esteem, increased well-being and positivity and less anxiety and depression.

I was taking a walk down a new route (an adventure!) through some woods and alongside the waterside and took a few moments to give my thoughts on these things. You can watch the video by clicking on this image: 

Gratitude Anxiety and Self Esteem hypnotherapy ely

 Watch on you Tube

Research has shown that there are many benefits that come from being grateful, with gratitude having been positively correlated with several aspects of well-being and mental health including life satisfaction, happiness, optimism and positivity. Gratitude also significantly predicts less depression and anxiety symptoms.

So what do we mean by gratitude?

"Gratitude has been described as an emotion arising from noticing and appreciating the benefits one has received...gratitude, as a disposition, has been defined as a "tendency to recognise and respond with grateful emotion to the roles of other people's benevolence in the positive experiences and outcomes that one obtains"" (Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian (2015), The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety, full reference below).

However, it goes even beyond only our interactions with others and also includes noticing and appreciating the positive aspects within our lives and in the world. It includes appreciating the specific actions of others and a more general appreciation of the positive aspects in your life. 

One of the ways you can start to assess your own personal proneness to experience gratitude in your daily life is to complete the Gratitude Questionnaire that is often used by researchers when looking at the impacts of gratitude. This six item questionnaire asks you to rate statements from one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree). It covers aspects of gratitude such as 'I have so much in life to be thankful for', 'If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list', 'I am grateful to a wide variety of people' and 'Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to something or someone'. It has been shown to be reliable so you can find a copy on the internet and complete it now, and then revisit it after purposefully noticing and appreciating things to be grateful for in your life.

Gratitude, Self-Esteem, Anxiety & Depression

As part of their research into the impact of gratitude on anxiety and depression, Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian looked at the role of self-criticism. 

Self-criticism has been defined as an integrated system of beliefs, emotions and attitudes that someone might have towards themselves in response to failures or set-backs. Because we respond to our own attacks in the same way that we do to external attacks and threats, self-criticism can be an active component of depression and anxiety issues. Your relationship (how you communicate) with yourself can have major impacts on your well-being. 

"Grateful people possess a worldview that is more focused on the appreciation of the good things that are present in one's life, including personal qualities, skills and resources. As a result, they may be less prone to see themselves as "not enough," more willing to consider themselves as resourceful, and to encourage themselves, which may lead to less anxiety in facing life's circumstances"  (Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian).

And, of course, if you are able to notice and recognise things that are positive and going well, even when faced with challenges, then you may very well feel more resourceful and capable of dealing with those specific things. Keeping that focus on 'the good things' also means that any challenges are more likely to be considered as specific things to deal with, rather than being generalised into every aspect of you as a person and your life (a thinking pattern often prevalent in anxiety and depression issues). 

There is an established relationship between gratitude and evaluating ourselves positively (self-esteem) and, of course, having a healthy evaluation of ourselves and our own unique set of beliefs, attitudes and capabilities also means that you are less likely to be prone to depression and anxiety symptoms. Gratitude offers a protective factor "not only because of its association with improved relationships with others, but also because it is connected to a less critical, less punishing, and more compassionate relationship with the self" (Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian).

So the major benefits of recognising, appreciating and exercising gratitude fall to the person who adopts gratitude practices. Yes other people will likely get a boost when you appreciate things they do, and that can have huge positive impacts on relationships with others (how often do we hear someone bemoaning being taken for granted), yet the major benefit of appreciation and gratitude will fall to you if you purposefully apply it. Adopting practices of gratitude can help you feel more satisfied in life, experience more well-being, feel more positive and strengthen your mental health AND boost your self-esteem and improve your relationship with yourself AND reduce the likelihood of depression and anxiety.  

The research suggests we are well beyond the territory of smiling and saying thank you because your mum taught you to (which you should do anyway...thanks mum!); here we are talking about a way of living a life where we feel better and happier in ourselves. 

Gratitude Anxiety depression Self Esteem hypnotherapy ely

 

Gratitude Protects Against Depression and Anxiety

As this research describes, the disposition to be grateful has robust associations with multiple aspects of mental health and grateful people tend to have more fulfilling, meaningful relationships and lower rates of many psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.

"The grateful disposition represents a protective factor against depression and anxiety...being grateful renders individuals more prone to show kindness, comprehension, support and compassion towards themselves when setbacks and frustrations occur...Thus, grateful people experience less anxiety mostly because they are able to encourage and be compassionate and reassuring towards themselves then things go wrong in life.

Pretty powerful stuff this gratitude thing. 

By focusing on, and appreciating, the good things in life, including personal skills, qualities and resources, you are likely to be less self-critical and this can strengthen your self-esteem by generating a positive evaluation of yourself. Gratitude tends to mean that you will reassure yourself and be less self-critical and self-attacking. 

The research findings showed that gratitude is associated with an improved 'relationship with the self' in the form of a more positive and compassionate way of treating ourselves when things go wrong in life, which is part of the reasons that grateful people tend to experience fewer depression and anxiety symptoms. 

Given how simple a thing it can be to adopt gratitude practices, it seems pretty obvious based on these research findings that we could all probably do with investing more consistency and purpose into it. Gratitude goes well beyond being polite and even way beyond being grateful for positive things involving others. It includes this yet also we can be grateful for other aspects in our lives - the people, places, things, circumstances and events. We can be mindfully grateful that we have a roof over our heads and food to eat and our loved ones in our life. We can be grateful for aspects of nature and the fact we can breathe and move and do things.

Certainly within my own life and my work with clients there are aspects of cultivating gratitude to reap some of the many mental health benefits. These aspects may involve getting out and noticing the things around you or spending time thinking about and appreciating the most important people and things in your life and I will often encourage people to spend time thinking back on the good moments of each day (rather than only focussing on the not so good stuff and ignoring the stuff that goes well).

And you can, and probably based on the benefits you should, deliberately nurture that gratitude so that your self-esteem increases and your depression and anxiety symptoms are less likely or decreased.

To your success

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

 

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Reference: Petrocchi, Nicola, and Alessandro Couyoumdjian. "The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self." Self and Identity15, no. 2 (2016): 191-205.