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How an attitude of gratitude improves your health

Riddle Hospital November 13, 2018 General Wellness

During Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season, we’re reminded of the significance of gratitude—how important it is to reflect on your accomplishments and blessings of the past year.

Taking stock of what you’re grateful for can make you feel good, but you might be surprised to learn that there are real, tangible health benefits to practicing gratitude.

“Your body responds to how you feel,” explains Maureen Buckley, MD, primary care doctor at Riddle Hospital, part of Main Line Health.

If, for example, you’re stressed about a fast-approaching deadline, you might notice that your stomach is in knots or you’re getting more headaches. When you’re happy, you might expect an opposite reaction.

“Our emotional wellness has a direct impact on our physical wellness. Recognizing the things or people in our life that we appreciate can make us happier and feel good,” says Dr. Buckley.

How exactly can gratitude improve your health? Research shows that gratitude can:

  • Help you sleep better and reduce daytime fatigue
  • Lower your stress levels
  • Reduce your risk of depression
  • Lessen aches and pains
  • Lower your blood pressure and boost immune function

And, while gratitude won’t prevent a heart attack or help you lose those pesky pounds, the factors listed above can make it easier to manage your weight and reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes and more.

“Especially as we age, surrounding ourselves with people we love and doing things that we enjoy is important for staying well,” says Dr. Buckley. “The earlier you can begin to practice these habits, the better.”

How can you practice gratitude?

Of course, it’s not always easy to feel grateful. We all have bad days or struggle with feelings of anxiety, helplessness or loss. These days will come but try a few daily or weekly practices to keep you focus on the good stuff:

Keep a gratitude journal: Keep a handwritten (or digital!) journal of the things or people you’re grateful for, or log a good thing that happened to you every day. Look back at this when you’re feeling stressed or upset.

Say thank you: “Thank you” is a phrase many of use often but also—mindlessly. When a colleague helps you with a work project, someone holds the door for you or a friend calls just to check in, take a moment to thank them. It doesn’t just make them feel good—it’ll make you feel good, too!

Volunteer: Especially around the holidays, there are many people and businesses in your community who might be looking for an extra set of hands. Volunteering for a few hours during the week can help you focus on giving back, rather than what you have and what you don’t.

Make time for what and who you love: Spending time with people who make you smile and feel good about yourself is important. Make sure you’re carving out time in your schedule for quality time with friends and family. Don’t forget to make time for your hobbies, too!

Practice mindfulness: During a busy time of year, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed or stressed out. When you notice yourself starting to feel this way, set aside 15–20 minutes to practice mindfulness. It can help you re-start your day and approach difficult or frustrating situations with patience and gratitude.

Feeling grateful is good for your health, but it's not all you should do stay healthy. Finding a doctor who knows you well, can help you stay well. But finding someone you trust requires getting to know them, too. Visit myprimary.org to find a primary care doctor that's right for you.