Depression is extremely common in people with chronic illnesses. You spend so much time managing your condition; you may not put in the time to address your other needs. Depression can be hard to handle, especially when taking different medications that do not mix well.
You do not always need medication to address your mental health, though it can be a helpful supplement. Exciting research shows that practicing gratitude in addition to mental health counseling improves patients’ mental health.
Caretakers at an independent senior living community work with their residents to combat depression associated with chronic illnesses such as pain and heart disease. They find that being grateful for what you’ve achieved in your life can ease some of the burdens of chronic illness.
Practicing gratitude can be challenging to begin, so here is some simple advice to help you start.
1. Think About the Good Things
Being positive is a choice. It is not always easy to look on the bright side, but it is something that you can deliberately. You have little to no control over what happens in your life, but you control how you react to it.
One of the first steps toward practicing gratitude is to choose to be grateful. It might seem like an over-simplification, but this mindset allows you to focus on the positive and spend less time worrying about the negative.
One hurdle that you may face is thinking that something is not worthy of gratitude. This is a common misconception. The point of practicing gratitude is to achieve a positive outlook by appreciating all of the good things in your life, no matter how small.
Some days that might mean being grateful for your friends and family. Other days, you might just be thankful for a chocolate milkshake. If something brings you pleasure, it is valid, and you can show your gratitude for it.
Practicing gratitude is as simple as changing your mindset. Even a bad situation can be a learning experience. There’s a cheesy saying that goes, “pressure turns coal into diamonds.” Maybe it is hard to feel grateful about a problematic situation, but when you look back in the future, you can be thankful for the experience that made you a stronger person.
2. Keeping a Gratitude Journal
Once you begin to practice gratitude, you may notice a snowball effect of things that you appreciate. You start by being grateful for marshmallows. Then, you are thankful for smores. Then, you are grateful for campfires. Then, you are thankful for the camping trip you went on with your family. Then, you are grateful for the friends and family that you spend time with.
When the mind is racing and making these connections, it can be easy to let some of them slip by without getting a chance to appreciate them. Keeping a gratitude journal allows you to record these good thoughts and come back to them when you need another boost.
A gratitude journal lets you acknowledge the feeling and appreciate the good emotions that come with it. It might be hard to think of things to be grateful for every day, so you can start by recording your thoughts less frequently. At the end of every week, think of five things that happened that you are grateful for.
As I mentioned before, gratitude does not have to be an eloquent, insightful thing. One day, you could be grateful for the way the sunlight shone through the tree leaves outside your bedroom. Another day, you could be thankful that your lunch was pretty tasty. The best thing about a gratitude journal is that it is for you. You can share it with other people if you wish, but you only need to please yourself.
3. Be Patient
It might be frustrating, but there is no such thing as a quick fix. While mental health counseling and practicing gratitude can eventually lead to lower levels of depression and a more positive outlook on life, it will not happen overnight. Some days will be hard, and that is okay.
Think of your loved ones – your family or friends. If they were going through a hard time and could not be positive all the time, you would give them a break. You deserve to treat yourself the same. One or two bad days do not derail the progress that you have already made.
This step may seem like the most straightforward, but it could very well be the most difficult to implement. If you do not see immediate effects, it is tempting to stop and move on to the next treatment. Give yourself some time to adjust to this new positive practice, and you will be on your way to a more positive and grateful mindset.
*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.
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