Gratitude Helps Curb Anxiety
How research shows gratitude can help with anxiety.
Posted July 20, 2020 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Research shows gratitude is a strong way to reduce anxiety. Such effects are in addition to gratitude’s ability to strengthen relationships, improve mental health, and minimize stress. In fact, researchers suggest that gratitude’s effects may be long-lasting and especially positive. Multiple studies use gratitude interventions as free, simple, and effective ways to protect against anxiety. Promotion of self-understanding, reducing unbeneficial self-talk, and reducing anxiety in youth are ways in which we can benefit.
We all experience a degree of anxiety in our lives. Practically no one is free from it. In fact, there are several ways we can use anxiety to our advantage. What does anxiety feel like? There are many different ways we can each experience anxiety, such as:
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense.
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom.
- Having trouble sleeping.
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems.
Knowing when anxiety becomes unbearable is key to maintaining a higher quality of life. The signs for when to seek help for anxiety include:
- You feel like you're worrying too much and it's interfering with your work, relationships, or other parts of your life.
- Your fear, worry, or anxiety is upsetting to you and difficult to control.
There are steps to take to prevent anxiety from interfering with your life. Such steps include physical exercise, getting plenty of sleep, good nutrition, a strong social support system, and also gratitude. How does gratitude work to protect against feelings of anxiety? There are at least three ways that gratitude helps.
1. Gratitude lets you better understand yourself in order to take it easy.
When we get overly critical of ourselves, stress can ensue. Self-compassion, self-understanding, and taking it easy are ways in which we hope to act. With gratitude, this is possible. Researchers in an Italian study found that gratitude “is connected to a less critical, less punishing, and more compassionate relationship with the self.”
The Italian researchers conclude, “being grateful renders individuals more prone to show kindness, comprehension, support, and compassion toward themselves when setbacks and frustrations occur.”
Based on their findings, it seems the art of knowing oneself and taking it easy may very well be linked to our gratefulness.
2. Gratitude helps reduce unbeneficial self-talk.
When facing a setback, stress trigger, frustration, or persistent worry, there is a tendency to engage in unbeneficial self-talk or repetitive negative thinking (RNT) linked to increasingly higher levels of anxiety.
The good news is that gratitude has the potential to reduce such thinking, according to a 2019 German study. Researchers showed a significant decrease in RNT via an app-based gratitude intervention lasting six weeks. Interestingly, in a 2020 study in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, RNT was linked to increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease. By protecting against RNT, gratitude may have the potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease as well.
3. Gratitude helps reduce anxiety in youth.
In her doctoral thesis, Danielle Cripps describes the way that gratitude can help reduce anxiety in youth. She writes, “A school-based gratitude diary intervention could be an effective way to promote school belonging and reduce anxiety in a youth population.”
Students in the intervention group were asked to write three things they were grateful for each day. By encouraging gratitude at a young age, anxiety especially in teenage years may be lessened in this way. Reviewing the ways youth can benefit can have a positive impact on our society at large.
In all, gratitude has the ability to reduce anxiety in unique and noteworthy ways. Researchers support the use of gratitude interventions based on findings from multiple studies, while some others express caution to rely on gratitude alone to curb anxiety. Nonetheless, the majority of the evidence suggests there is plenty to gain from gratitude, including aid in the struggle with anxiety.
Wood, A.M., Maltby, J., Gillet, R., Linley, P.A., & Joseph, S. (2008). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 854-871.
Heckendorf, H., et al. (2019). Efficacy of an internet and app-based gratitude intervention in reducing repetitive negative thinking and mechanisms of change in the intervention's effect on anxiety and depression: Results from a randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 119, 103415.
Marchant, N.L., et al. (2020). Repetitive negative thinking is associated with amyloid, tau, and cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s and Dementia, 16, 1054-1064.