It didn’t start out so well back in March. With little warning or mental preparation, Covid threw us into a silent, empty world, with only essential services open. I struggled with the stay at home orders, not seeing my family, and the associated fears of this unknown pandemic. My overall feeling of well-being and optimism had been dismantled. I was stressed, sad, not sleeping well, felt disconnected, and many days unable to focus on anything except binge-watching movies.
As we near the end of a very challenging 2020, I realize I am feeling good. I am relaxed, sleep well, no longer depressed and now able to enjoy my life as it is today. Vitamins, drugs, or a strict fitness regime? No. I decided several months ago I was going to find something or someone every day to be grateful for.
Believe me, some days it’s difficult. I still miss my life as I knew it, with days with my grandkids, dinners out, travel and getting together with family and friends. I miss my old way of life with its routines, activities, people, face-to-face conversations, and the ease in which we moved through the world. Many of you share that feeling of loss.
I now start each day with a short meditation mindfulness practice, followed by a gratitude walk in the morning. At first, I stopped to take pictures of interesting plants, flowers, and “interesting yard art”. Things I didn’t notice as I rushed by only weeks before. I photographed chalk art messages on the streets, window signs with messages to stay strong, and teddy bears perched in windows to entertain kids on a neighborhood bear hunt. I was grateful to people who found creative solutions to our new reality: sharing senior store hours and where to find supplies in high demand and short supply; supporting local, small businesses by encouraging food takeout; music on the balconies; and cheering essential workers as they changed shifts.
Each day, I discover more ways to feel and express gratitude in today’s world shattered by a pandemic, split by divisive, angry politics, racial and social unrest, and widespread financial and personal hardships. I found a sweetness in everyday acts of kindness, simple delights and the slower pace. I enjoyed fewer obligations and now savor life in fresh ways.
Gratitude not only made my days brighter, I realized several significant health benefits. Scientific research backs this up with research proving gratitude has a positive impact on health and longevity.
This past year, I have enjoyed better, closer relationships with family members and friends. Deeper, more reflective conversations, socially distanced, yet emotionally closer. I have several deeper friendships with women I had previously known casually. When we contact long ago friends, gratitude can soften lapsed years, past grudges, regrets, and bitterness from past hurts. Research studies that link gratitude to more positive, stronger relationships and longevity.
Gratitude is the positive acceptance of a relationship as it is and allows us to be fully present with others. There is no greater gift we can give one another.
Spiritually, gratitude can deepen our faith and connection to God, our Higher Power.
At night, I reflect on what I am grateful for each day. I have noticed that I am sleeping longer and deeper. Better sleep quality has a significant impact on our health, as it affects blood pressure and cardiac health.
A 2011 scientific study demonstrated that fifteen minutes of writing in a gratitude journal helps to improve sleep.
Sharper Brain Function
As mentioned above, I was unfocused, anxious and depressed in late spring. As I practiced gratitude daily, I noticed I felt more alert, focused and was thinking more clearly. Neuroscientists have found that gratitude creates and strengthens neural pathways which help with resilience and overcoming stressful situations. Once again, science backs what I experienced.
Improved my Emotional Well-Being
I had many “down-in-the-dumps”, grumpy days in the spring. I rarely do now. When we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters which make us feel happy and relaxed. Gratitude also reduces cortisol, nicknamed the “stress hormone,” which causes anxiety and depression. Cortisol is also that wicked hormone that keeps weight on our bodies as a survival mechanism. We are also less likely to get angry, which has a direct effect on our blood pressure.
These health benefits become significantly more important as we age. Besides the big four of health– good nutrition, daily exercise, sleep, and reducing stress, add gratitude to that list.
I encourage you to look around, notice, and be grateful for what’s in your world, right now today. I invite your comments.