When was the last time you felt so stressed about something that you became completely absorbed in the feeling of stress itself? You felt your heart rate go up, your palms started to sweat, your breathing got quicker, and you could only think about the problem that was causing the stress. The more you thought about it, the more stressed you became, and the more you became blinded by the problem. The good news is you're not alone - these are all very common reactions to feeling stressed. The bad news it that the more stressed you become, the harder it is to overcome stress or the problem that has caused it. The good news is that you can train your mind to overcome the stress by saying thanks.
Gratitude is a powerful force which has numerous benefits in life. It helps you build strong relationships, better connections with your community, and it has even shown to have a positive effect on your income. Grateful people also tend to be more physically fit, have lower blood pressure and suffer less from stress. So why is gratitude so powerful in combating stress? Psychologist Robert Emmons explains it beautifully:
"Gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall. Grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.”
Robert also talks about how using specific questions around thankfulness helps you overcome stressful situations. These are especially helpful when you're feeling absolutely stuck because forcing yourself to work through them will help you gain more perspective and take a more proactive approach to the challenge - both of which will reduce your stress levels. Here are the questions you can use to overcome stress through gratitude.
- What lessons is this experience teaching me?
- Can I find ways to be thankful for what’s happening to me now even though I was not at the time it started happening?
- What ability is the experience drawing out of me that’s surprised me?
- How am I now more the person I want to be because of it? Have my negative feelings about the experience limited or prevented my ability to feel gratitude in the time since it occurred?
- Has the experience removed a personal obstacle that previously prevented me from feeling grateful?
The key to gratitude is to understand that it's just like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it becomes, and the easier it will be to consistently put it into action. Next time you're feeling so stressed you think you're stuck in a tunnel with no way out, ask yourself the above questions. You will gain a new sense of appreciation for the challenge you have, and how it's bringing out your best self - be it through awareness of existing skills or through developing new ones.
As William James said very wisely, "The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another." Choose thankful thinking and you've already won half the battle.
A version of this post appeared originally at Happyologist where you can sign-up for a free weekly happiness newsletter.
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