How thankful are you?

Practicing gratitude can be challenging on those days you want to curl up and completely shun the world. Sometimes it takes a boost of gratitude to help you get out of a slump. Gratitude for yourself, for others, for the world. Yes, even gratitude for your enemies.

Gratitude meditation can be considered one of the most simple ways to meditate. You can try it at any time and anywhere. All you need to do is reflect on all of the people and things that you are grateful for.

As Jack Kornfield says:

Open the meditation to include neutral people, difficult people, and even enemies- until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.”

Benefits of Gratitude Meditation

You may be skeptical but there are many benefits to invoking feelings of gratitude.

  • Decreased levels of depression(Sirois, 2017 Gratitude Uniquely Predicts Lower Depression in Chronic Illness Populations)
  • Greater feelings of well-being (Nezlek, 2017 A daily diary study of relationships between feelings of gratitude and well-being)
  • Trust in social situations with strangers (Drążkowski, 2017 Gratitude pays: A weekly gratitude intervention influences monetary decisions, physiological responses, and emotional experiences during a trust-related social interaction)
  • Greater sleep quality (Jackowska, 2016: The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology, and sleep)
  • Reduced levels of stress and increased happiness (Kyeong, 2018 Effects of Gratitude Meditation on Neural Network Functional Connectivity and Brain-Heart Coupling)

 

Here is an easy 10 minute meditation to wake up with which will help you start your day in a more positive way.

 

This guided gratitude meditation is just over 10 minutes long and you can listen to it wherever you like whether you’re on the train or bus on the way to work or just beginning your day.

 

How are gratitude and mindfulness linked?

Mindfulness is all about being aware without judgement of your thoughts. Try to observe your surroundings and also your internal mental state with compassion, without judgement.

I found it very useful to treat mindfulness as brain training. You can train your brain to stop reacting to negative situations with irritation and frustration. Expressing irritation and frustration will always lead to negative outcomes. Consider all of the times you showed irritation and how it worsened the situation. If we train ourselves to react with compassion and acceptance those negative moments become so much more bearable.

As written by Williams and Penman (2012), mindfulness can prevent the relapse of depression and I have definitely felt this in my personal experience. My depression and anxiety has become manageable and bearable thanks to the brain training towards a mindfulness mentality.

Feelings of sadness and pain are part of the normal human experience. However, our mental health is affected by the frustration with which we reaction to that sadness and pain. Sadness can cause a person to react with frustration. That frustration leads to more sadness. That sadness brings about more feelings of frustration that feeds the negative spiral downwards into depression.

The downward depression spiral can be stopped! There is hope. If we don’t react to negative emotions with irritation and frustration, but instead with compassion and acceptance, we can stop spiralling and become more productive.

“Once you’ve felt [negative emotions], acknowledge their existence and let go of the tendency to explain or get rid of them, they are much more likely to vanish naturally, like the mist on a spring morning.” -Williams and Penman, 2012

Acknowledge and accept the existence of your sadness and anger; then let them fade away. It’s just a moment in the span of your existence. Moments of pleasure don’t last just as moments of sadness don’t last. As long as you don’t feed them.

Happiness isn’t a life free of irritation and negativity. Happiness is a life where negativity and irritation aren’t fed and strengthened, they are acknowledged and accepted with humility.

“You can’t stop the triggering of unhappy memories, negative self-talk and judgmental ways of thinking -but what you can stop is what happens next. You can stop the vicious circle from feeding off itself and triggering the next spiral of negative thoughts.” -Williams and Penman, 2012

The next time you feel negativity bubbling up during a moment of vulnerability or desperation, do not get frustrated at yourself or at external factors, just take a deep breath and patiently acknowledge the experience, observe it as it simply fades away.

Gratitude makes it possible to notice the positive blessings around us and removes our thoughts from the difficulties we’re facing in this life. Mindfulness helps us react to our misfortunes with acceptance and humility.

Life is difficult enough for all of us, let’s not make it harder.

The positive potential

The potential for meditation to assist people with many different ailments is enormous. People can turn to meditation for respite from anything including insomnia, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and addiction.

The positive mindset that meditation can bring seems to do so much good when we are experiencing such difficulty. Practising mindfulness through meditation has helped so many people move forward through the lowest points in their life in order to find the strength to carry on.

I’d love to share with you the experience of a friend who suffers from Crohn’s Disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. It’s very painful and like many chronic illnesses it can prevent the person from working, or working as much as someone without a chronic illness which, as most of you know, can have a negative impact on every aspect of a person’s life (depression, stress, financial burden).

Here is Stuart’s story in his own words:

My life with mediation

My stress levels have been the biggest change with reducing stress due to the help of meditating…

Meditation has also changed the way I look at life as well the surroundings around me and understanding my own body…

My life has been a roller coaster since dignosed with a chronic illness which had taken over my self esteem but a close friend suggested to try meditation. After 8 months of self meditation my self confidence has been at a high and this helped me to deal with a chronic illness, Crohn’s Disease.

To control the mind and body through meditation and to do deal with the outcomes crohns throws at myself well it’s helped with the changes my body develops on a scale where its believed hard but mediation can bring happiness, self belief and self confidence.

If you have used meditation to help you through any difficulty in your life please comment below and tell us your story.

My experience with… Anxiety

Have you ever felt anxious?

Imagine that feeling before you stand in front of a crowd to give a presentation or a speech. Imagine feeling that for days on end with no relief in sight.

It’s very difficult for people who haven’t experienced anxiety to understand or relate to the symptoms of anxiety.

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The way I describe it:

It feels as though someone has a hold of your intestines and is squeezing as tight as possible, wringing out every drop.

I lose my appetite. I have my “gloomy specs” on so that everything is seen from a negative point of view. I jump to the worst possible conclusion of everything. Thoughts are quick, irrational and it’s like sinking, struggling to stay afloat to see past anything but the completely negative situation.

Anxiety clouds my mind. While trying to get through the day the fog in my head is sometimes too difficult to think through. It’s completely frustrating.

It’s so overwhelming that sometimes normal tasks like eating, sleeping and breathing are a struggle. I feel like I’m barely surviving through some days.

Yes, it’s frustrating for everyone around me. I’m aware. If I could fix the anxiety I would have already.

If someone you know has anxiety:

My opinion is that anxiety requires patient friends and family. Very patient.

Sometimes just a hug can relax the irrational thoughts for a moment so I can have a tiny bit of much needed clarity. That can help immensely.

What I have been doing to improve:

I have been increasing my use of meditation and practising mindfulness. Mindfulness is helping me become more aware of the present instead of being lost in my anxious thoughts of the future or mistakes of the past. I am beginning to notice when the thoughts are getting worse as it’s much easier to calm my mind before the anxiety takes complete hold.

Focusing on my breathing instead of the anxious thoughts brings me back to the present moment and helps me reduce some of the anxiety symptoms (fast breathing and heart rate).

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Before sleeping and upon waking is usually when I have my worst anxiety. Thinking of my to do list for my day ahead often whips me into a frenzy inside my mind. Just knowing that this is my weakness, I acknowledge it and breathe, remembering that I can’t do anything about the to do list until I arrive at work. So I am able to put it out of my mind until I’m ready to deal with each task.

I hope my experience can help you understand how someone you know is feeling. Or if you have ever experienced anxiety in this way I really hope this post has brought you new ideas to try so you can feel some relief.

Big comforting hugs from me to you.

My experience with… Meditation

We often hear the word “mindfulness” but how many of us have actually understood the meaning?

The journey

I have begun on a personal quest or journey to discover what mindfulness means. Or at least what it could mean for me.

mindfulness

From the beginning:

I downloaded a few different guided meditation apps such as Calm, Stop, Breathe & Think, Insight Timer.

I found some more useful than others.

So far:

I learned it’s okay if sometimes I struggle to meditate.

If I start the morning with a quick guided meditation I have more patience for the rest of the day.

More patience means the little things don’t bother me as much.

Settling myself before falling asleep leads to less insomnia.

Doing a little meditation per day helps immensely overall.

My “ah-ha!” moment:

I finally started to understand my mindfulness journey when it was described as daily brain training. I love my brain training apps for maths, English and languages so I added the meditation apps to my list of brain training I do daily.

Things I’m beginning to learn:

Being mindful = being in the present moment.

If my thoughts of the future are making me feel anxious (eg. Before work) then I can help myself be calm and focused.

If my thoughts of the past are also increasing anxiety and sadness, then mindfulness is useful to bring me back to the present.

I’m hoping that meditation will also help reduce outbursts of frustration and help me think before I speak or act.

I learned there’s a type of meditation for increasing self esteem and loving oneself. This is a huge challenge for me but I’m hoping to give it a go soon.

Tips:

  • Just a minute or two per day can help
  • Stick with it! You can make it a habit to meditate daily
  • You can notice thoughts and feelings but don’t let them get to you
  • It’s okay if you don’t feel like your mind is settled enough during a meditation
  • Use a guided meditation app if you are a beginner

I definitely recommend meditation.

Give it a go. You’ve nothing to lose!