by GENEVIEVE MULLINS
Christmas can often be a difficult time for those suffering with cancer – especially when coping with the side effects of treatment, and experiencing fatigue or tiredness. Whilst everyone else is joyously organising for the festivities ahead, you might otherwise be struggling to feel the Christmas spirit.
Though the hype of Christmas may have dissipated since cancer diagnosis, the experience can nonetheless still provide meaning and purpose to one’s life. Instead of the stress of last minute shopping, or preparing enough food to serve an army, you may feel this is the most appropriate time to reflect on how far along you’ve come on your cancer journey.
Learning to feel and show gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation tends to foster positive feelings, which in turn, is associated with greater happiness.
Whether you thank your body for persisting through the different stages of cancer treatment, or express gratitude to someone who cares for you, there are many different ways to practice gratitude; all eliciting an overall sense of well-being.
Simple practices of gratitude can contribute to our mental and physical well-being. Benefits include, and not limited to, a reduction in stress, greater sleep quality and the ability to initiate, maintain and strengthen our relationships:
- Reduces stress – As reported in Psychology Today, gratitude helps lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone, by about 23 percent. Appreciating the little things in life shifts our mindset away from the negative automatic thought patterns that can contribute to low mood, anxiety and depression. The benefit of focusing our mind on the present moment allows a broader sense of awareness, attention and memory. As a result, this helps to eliminate the overwhelming feeling when stressed and instead respond to the situation in a more constructive, positive manner.
- Improves quality of sleep –A study examined the relationship between gratitude and sleep in a community of 401 people, 40% of who had clinically impaired sleep. Negative thoughts before bedtime were found to impair sleep, whereas positive pre sleep cognitions were related to improved sleep quality and quantity.
People who consistently practice gratitude have little to keep them up at night. As a result, they tend to sleep better than those who spend more time worrying or ruminating over life events.
A study by Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, found those who wrote grateful sentiments for 15 minutes prior to bed every evening reported better and longer sleep.
- Improves relationships – Practicing gratitude contributes to relationship connection and satisfaction. No matter the relationship; partner, parents, children or friends, a sincere ‘thank you’ acknowledges that their kindness has been recognized, and the person who is the beneficiary may actually be more likely to reciprocate in future.
Research has found that couples who express gratitude for one another were more satisfied in their relationship and felt closer to each other.
GRATITUDE AND NEUROTRANSMITTERS
The power of positive thinking has the ability to change the structure and function of the brain – for the better. When we receive or express gratitude the brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for pleasure, reward, motivation, attention and bodily movements. The stimulation of these neurotransmitters helps us feel ‘good’, which in turn enables us to engage in activities, connect with others, and perceive the world in a reflective and positive way.
The conscious effort of being grateful can help these neural pathways to strengthen, and overtime create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.
WAYS TO CULTIVATE GRATITUDE
Often time’s people will reach out for materialistic things to facilitate their desire for happiness. As a result the distraction of tangible objects may lead to neglecting the appreciation of the small aspects of what life brings. Sometimes the best, most valuable joys in life are standing right in front of you – awaiting your acknowledgment.
Although it may feel contrived at first, with practice the art of being grateful will grow stronger and occur naturally throughout daily life.
Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a daily basis:
- Keep a Gratitude Journal – Dedicate a few minutes each day writing down the things you’re grateful for. Start small and write down three things you are grateful for each day. You may then gradually expand your list as time goes on. Be specific with your list and try elaborate in detail about what you’re grateful for.
- Meditate – Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgement. Dedicate time for yourself to simply sit in silence and focus on what you’re grateful for (i.e., the warmth of the sun, the sound of nature etc.). I tend to meditate first thing in the morning as my mind is free and clear after a restless night’s sleep. Morning meditation sets the tone for a calm, mindful and productive day.
- Show Appreciation and Gratitude to Loved Ones –Whether it’s giving someone a hug, offering a hand with house chores, bringing a loved one a cup of tea/coffee, or simply writing a thank you card, the signs of appreciation are endless. There are many ways to express enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Once in a while, even write a thank you note for yourself.
Genevieve’s fascination with the mind and its impact on human behavior led her to pursue a Bachelor of Psychology, at QUT, and then further continued to complete an honours degree, at University of Sunshine Coast. Genevieve envisions her future to embrace a career assisting adults in discovering the cause of psychological issues and in turn providing guidance to alleviate pain and suffering. When she’s not working full time, Genevieve can be found relaxing at a coffee shop, jogging along the boardwalk of the Brisbane River, partaking in an early morning yoga class, or simply reading a good novel with a cup of tea.