Over a physically distant visit with my mother and mother-in-law over Mother’s Day, I found myself wondering what future Mother’s Days would look like, how my friends’ babies would go back to daycare, how my friends’ postponed weddings would play out next year, and if we would reach a “normal” where we engage in all the same activities we once did.
This type of wondering, which I’m sure we’ve all been doing, has been making my brain spin more than usual. I kept thinking about how I moved out of New York several months ago and the impact that the pandemic has had on the city and how they will recover. I thought back to 911 and how New York has and has not returned to normal since 911; some things will never be the same, and yet that tragic event brought New York closer together. We don’t have a crystal ball 🔮 that can tell the future, so our best guess of how this pandemic will shape the future is based on previous experiences, emotions (usually, fear), and a desire for things to be different. What we do know, though, is that there are silver linings possible in every tragic event.
Reflecting on what you are grateful for can actually promote positive emotions in a crisis. Research has shown that cultivating gratitude promotes improved mood, decreased stress and anxiety, and an increase in your immune system- which is something I think we can all benefit from right now (The research is listed here, here, and here). Finding what you are grateful for may feel extremely easy or relatively challenging based on multiple factors. For example, if you have lost someone close to you, then this exercise may be a bit more difficult, but, you can still benefit from this activity.
THREE WAYS TO CULTIVATE GRATITUDE
Write down a list of everything you are grateful for (on paper or in the notes section of your iPhone). This list can include the small things (i.e., having your morning coffee in a mug rather than a to-go cup) and bigger things (i.e., health). After you have jotted this down, engage in a brief mindfulness exercise by contemplating your list and notice how your emotions shift or how your body posture and muscles become more relaxed.
Write a letter of gratitude to a friend, your child, a parent (living or deceased). You don’t necessarily need to send this letter but you totally can if you want. The purpose of this letter is to write, in sufficient detail, how you are grateful for this person. Again, notice how this alters your mood, thoughts, and physiological senses.
Click here to download and print a free coloring page to document what you are grateful for while you spend time engaging in a self-care activity :).
Here’s what I learned from the gratitude exercise: I am grateful for my animals; I learned that at 4pm sharp every day, my dog and two cats sun bathe as the light perfectly hits my living room floor. I am grateful for my husband; I’ve seen another side of him and how he performs at work! I see that he works hard, works out in between calls, and is super efficient and when I am lucky… makes me food. I am grateful that I get to drink my coffee every morning as it tastes much better in my ceramic mug than in my coffee tumbler! I am so grateful for my family and friend’s current health status. Wow- I didn’t realize how much I would be grateful for since when I am not cultivating gratitude intentionally, I am living more in the fear zone. I actually felt a little bit of relief and a desire to connect more with friends and family. Pretty amazing how 5 minutes can do that, huh?
Everyone deserve to engage in self-care during a crisis and we can all find gratitude, even though it feels as though there we are living in fear and loss. You can try this out once or adopt a daily gratitude exercise. Try this out and if it doesn’t work the first time, fear not, this takes practice! Try this out 10 times before determining if you reap the benefits from the exercise.