It feels like this year just started a couple of months ago, and here it is finishing up and heading into the holidays.

We look forward to the holidays for many reasons, but the very things that we are looking forward to (family gatherings, gifts, social events, wish lists and expectations) can also cause a good amount of stress. I don’t know about you, but I am already exhausted from making it through the past two years.

Going into a busy time, I need some strategies to help get me through. I have one go-to that has incredible benefits throughout the year but especially during the holidays.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

This quote always reminds me to think about the important things and to appreciate the beauty in every day. Life is stressful. However, gratitude can change our outlook and improve our mood. Turns out, gratitude may be one of the most underrated tools for better mental health.

I know we have all heard that practicing “an attitude of gratitude” is a good thing. But can it really be that simple, or is that just Pollyannaish? Research shows that practicing gratitude daily has actual physical and mental benefits.

“Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health factors like regular exercise, a healthy diet and regular physical examinations,” says Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis.

Additionally, gratitude can help with stress, can strengthen the immune system and can keep your mind alert while helping you sleep better.

Your limbic system is the part of your brain that regulates emotions. What we recognize as emotions are neural activations. Studies show that the hippocampus and amygdala, the two main emotion regulation portions, are activated when you feel gratitude. Gratitude works in that it shifts your perceptions and thinking from what you do not have to what you do. The word comes from the Latin word “gratia,” which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. Practicing gratitude regularly can turn your mind to notice the positive aspects of life while releasing toxic emotions and possibly reducing pain. Noticing the positives tends to be a lot more difficult when you are struggling or anxious. Difficult times often lead us to focus on the negatives without acknowledging the positives. Additionally, a recent study published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry found a strong link between gratitude and resilience or emotional strength.

Developing a daily habit of gratitude can feel contrived at first but becomes a stronger habit and grows easier with practice. Challenge yourself, do it with family or friends. It can change the way you perceive your environment, which can change your moods. Suggestions for how you can cultivate a daily practice of gratitude include:

• Start a daily gratitude journal.

• Start your day by thinking of one thing you are grateful for each morning before betting on with the rest of your day.

• Schedule a time each day or week to list a couple of things you are grateful for.

• Meditate and do breathing exercises.

• Send thank-you notes/texts.

• Pray.

• Keep a gratitude jar.

These are easy things you can do to increase your overall well-being. They will not eliminate all of life’s problems and stress but can have a huge benefit for your overall mental wellness.

Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center Executive Director Deidre Ashley is a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in social work. Contact her by emailing columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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