Social Anxiety | 10 Sep 2019

Gratitude Journaling Can Rewire Your Brain!

How can keeping a Gratitude Journal Benefit Me?

Hands up if you have heard that journaling is good for you? My hands are firmly up right now!

I have heard time and time again how important it is, and I also recommend writing a gratitude journal to all my clients, but why?

Why is keeping a gratitude journal good for you?

It certainly makes you feel good when you think about events and memories of your day that have been great. Later in the blog I’ll be telling you all about the latest research demonstrating that a simple two minute activity like gratitude journaling – every day – can actually rewire our brain to help us cope better with stress and anxiety, and feel happier and more able to cope!

 ….But what about when you’ve had a terrible day. Life feels crap, and you can’t think of anything that has been good?

Can I still keep a gratitude journal if my life feels like sh*t right now?

The answer is YES!

Often our first instinct when thinking about gratitude and events and memories that we feel good about are major celebrations like Weddings, big birthdays, holidays etc. A gratitude journal is different though, yes of course we can write about the huge celebrations, but let’s consider events and objects in our life that makes us feel grateful. Events and memories that give us a little pleasure in our day.

I gave an example recently in my Facebook group about something as simple as a broken radiator. Who knew we were so grateful for radiators? Well, we didn’t, until we were at a friend’s house, their radiator broke, the water had to be turned off which meant no heating, no water, and no flushing toilet! Boy, were we grateful when the radiator was fixed again!

But…. Let’s not all start writing about how grateful we are for radiators!

When we write about what we’re grateful for, it’s important to write about something that resonates with you. For example, this morning I sat looking out of my window and saw some blue tits flying to and fro from my neighbours’ tree to a bird feeder. I loved seeing them all taking it in turns, some being cheeky and pushing the others away. It certainly made my bleary-eyed breakfast more interesting.

Whilst I’m writing this, I have a box of tissues next to me, a woolly jumper on, and some yoga pants. I’m full of a head cold and I’d like to go back to bed, but I have more clients to stay awake for today.

 We could look at this from two angles, yes I’m poorly and I feel like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, but I’m also grateful.

I’m grateful for the soft tissues that aren’t going to turn my nose into Rudolf’s. I’m grateful for the woolly jumper keeping me warm, the fact I have a lovely bed I’ll go and jump in later as soon as I’ve seen my last client of the day. I’m grateful that all my clients today are online clients, so I can wear my comfy yoga pants, and no one knows I’m secretly slobbing it! I’m grateful for my clients and the strength they use every day to get through challenging times. I’m grateful for the little bit of sun that has just begun to poke through the dreary day.

And there you go……before I know it, I’ve got a whole list of objects and moments I’m grateful for even on a day that doesn’t rank high in my “Best days of my life” rankings!

How do I see the good in every day?

Practice is definitely a factor. It’s taken me a long time to be able to see a dreary day where I’m feeling poorly and sorry for myself and turn it around into finding loads I’m grateful. So, please don’t beat yourself up if you find it really difficult at first! It takes time, and practice, but ANYONE can do this. You included!

How do I start a gratitude journal?

First off, let’s begin by finding a notebook or diary of some kind that you can write in. I’m sure if you muster up the motivation, you’ll probably have a notebook lying around in a cupboard somewhere in your house, but if that’s not an option you can usually grab one from a local shop for under a pound. If a notebook doesn’t feel like the right idea for you let’s be more creative. What about journaling what you’re grateful for throughout your day by taking photos?

When is the best time to journal?

At night right before you go to sleep. So, it might feel good to leave the notebook at the side of your bed to remind you. It’s also something great to wake up to and have a little read of too. If you’re taking pictures, it can be helpful to do a rerun in your imagination of the pictures you took that day right before you fall asleep.

What can I journal about?

Start small, think of three times during your day today when you felt grateful or pleased with yourself, or maybe you felt good about something? Maybe you had a nice hot shower, you enjoyed your breakfast, or you chatted to a friend and found you both laughing at something funny?

Beginning with just three items a day will soon increase, but don’t put pressure on yourself to increase it. Give it time and when the times right, it will begin to increase all on its own, and before you know it, you’ll be struggling to fit everything you’re grateful for that day onto a page in your book!

Why is journaling about gratitude good for us?

There have been all kinds of scientific studies over the last decade or so, and time and time again they keep coming up with similar results. In a nutshell, people who keep a gratitude diary or journal scale themselves as happier than people who don’t. One of the most recent studies in 2019 demonstrates that journaling our gratitude through taking photographs decreases our stress levels and increases our life satisfaction.

More than that though, neuroscientists have begun using MRI brain scanners to see whether changes occur in the brain because we’re journaling about gratitude. A Neuroscientist in Psychology who dedicates his work to the neural changes in the brain related to gratitude has found numerous times now that our prefrontal cortex in the brain changes its activity levels. The activity levels and neural pathways change so much that results demonstrate a significant effect on people coping with anxiety and depression just by journaling about gratitude for as little as three weeks. These benefits increase with the longevity of the gratitude journaling.

Is keeping  a gratitude journal worth the effort?

Absolutely! It only takes a couple of minutes out of your day, but it leaves you finishing the day feeling good, which is a great way to fall asleep. It changes your ability to cope with challenges, it lowers your stress  and anxiety levels, increases your happiness scale and even rewires your brain to help you cope so much better!