The power of gratitude - by Dr. Tommy Bischoff, Ph.D., LMFT
Dr. Tommy Bischoff, Ph.D., LMFT, is an experienced therapist specializing in grief and loss, couples counseling, trauma, depression, anxiety, infertility, and self-esteem. He is a cancer survivor and offers video consultations as a part of The After Cancer's Care Team.
How to manage stress at a macro and micro level as a cancer survivor?
There are a lot of stressful things occurring in the world. On a global level we see and hear about wars, terrorism, and violence, poverty and hunger, pandemics, climate crisis and natural disasters. It can be very scary and anxiety inducing, which may lead to feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. Additionally, you may be experiencing stress that is related to your health, family, work, school, friends, and at this time- the stress and anxiety that often accompanies the holiday season. It is very easy to be weighed down by everything going on both at the macro and micro level. Therefore, it is important to find ways to slow down and engage in coping skills that can alleviate the stress in your life.
The power of gratitude
Gratitude is an often overlooked and undervalued skill (and state of mind) that can have powerful and meaningful benefits to your health and well-being. The act of being grateful, searching for the good, and appreciating what you have can decrease stress and anxiety (Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian, 2016). Furthermore, being grateful can boost your overall well-being and increase your sense of happiness in life (Behzadipour et al., 2018). It even helps to create positive feelings and increase connection in your relationships (Park et al., 2019). Additionally, implementing an attitude of gratitude in your life can be easy and enjoyable.
Some ideas to try to implement gratitude in your life
• At the end of the day, use a notebook or journal (or notes on your phone) to write down 3 things for which you are grateful. Do this every day for a month and see how you feel. Bonus challenge - try not to repeat any item you have previously written.
• Engage in mindfulness and meditation. Both help with slowing down and focusing. Mindfulness engages your current/present state to be more aware. Meditation explores your inner and outer world - connecting with your emotions, senses, and ideas (learn more on Getting Started with Mindfulness). Both focus on being non-judgmental and encourage curiosity and appreciation of self and one’s environment.
• Catch the good. Gottman and Silver’s (2015) research suggests couples should express fondness, admiration, and appreciation for each other. Whether for a romantic partner, parent, child, friend, etc., search for the positive characteristics, traits and behaviors of that person. Bonus challenge - share with them what you see and feel.
• Set boundaries for how often and how long you engage in stressful events (e.g. looking at the news), and schedule time to ponder the positive things. It is not about dismissing or denying the hard stuff. Rather, remembering that good things still exist, too. Plus, planning it on the calendar will help with engagement.
• Focus on the people, activities, and things that you love, make you happy, feel good, and bring peace into your life. Being grateful can mean engaging with the person or thing that brings positive feelings. If you are struggling to find things you are grateful for, consider other words (e.g. love, happy) that are often connected to gratitude.
When life gets busy and chaotic, take a step back and breath
In conclusion, when life gets busy and chaotic, take a step back, breathe, and remind yourself of the good things around you. It does not have to be a huge gesture or grand activity in which you engage in order to be grateful. Rather, the small consistent efforts of gratitude will provide the longer lasting and meaningful impact on you and your health as well as those around you.