The act of giving thanks is a wonderful exercise for your mental health. Many of us focus on this type of “workout” during the holiday season and that’s a great start to some amazing health benefits for you and everyone around you. Your brain when you’re thankful changes in ways that can have a huge impact.
Through several studies, researchers have determined that your brain when you’re thankful does some pretty cool things. Today we’re taking a look at how you can initiate major changes to your mental health this season that will last well beyond the turkey feast, caroling and fireworks.
One recent study from Indiana University found that practicing gratitude is like building a muscle in your brain. The more you do it, the better you become at it and the greater the benefits are.
During the study people who suffered from anxiety and depression wrote letters of thanks and then were presented with an opportunity to be charitable. A brain scan showed there was higher activity among those who were more charitable and the affected regions stayed active for months beyond the experiment.
This is not only exciting news for people who are anxious and depressed. It speaks to everyone. When we practice gratitude we are more optimistic. With a positive attitude, our wellbeing improves. When we are more content, our productivity and interactions with others are more significant. When we do more with greater meaning, we influence others to be better as well. This chain of gratitude can have astronomical benefits to society. But it starts with exercise – gratitude exercise that is.
Furthermore, studies have concluded that gratitude leads to more energy and enthusiasm for life, as well as focus and determination. Your brain when you’re thankful can motivate you to exercise more efficiently, reduce feelings of pain and ailments, and sleep better. Plus, giving thanks increases blood flow to the hypothalamus responsible for many bodily functions including your metabolism and stress levels. So feeling and expressing gratitude can help keep you calm and keep your body running smoothly too.
Exercising your gratitude “muscle” doesn’t require major, time-intensive workouts. Rather, small acts of gratitude such as keeping a journal of things that make you grateful, writing thank-you letters, or paying your thanks forward in even slight ways can trigger these long-lasting feelings.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to start your new gratitude workout regimen. But don’t let it end with the last bite of turkey and cranberries. Keep up your routine and flex your gratitude muscle often to benefit yourself and others around you.
Sources: Psychology Today, Inc and NY Magazine