How to Lower Reactions to Stress
Is your social media feed stressing you out? Do you feel sucked into reading, watching, and seeking out as much news as possible about what’s happening in the world right now? How can we lower our reactions to stress when it feels like we are in the middle of chaos? Maybe you’ve seen posts and articles that say, “Relax and de-stress.” But when our minds seem wired to look for the bad, we need a new tool to help us lessen our reaction to stress. The most powerful tool we know for today’s de-stressing job is – gratitude.
Why Does Gratitude Work?
Did you know you can lower stress by practicing gratitude regularly? Some studies list a slew of benefits that come from a gratitude practice (including better and improved health). Is gratitude merely mind over matter – basically, think of what you’re grateful for and sleep divert your attention from the things that stress you out? Or is it something more?
An article in the 2016 Journal of Happiness describes a study where gratitude helped people cope with the stressors of life in less reactive way. The participants used a diary to record their well-being and stressors for a two week period. Some were prompted to describe things they were grateful for that day before their required diary entries, while others went straight to their assignment. The participants who connected to gratefulness first, showed an increase in their well-being entries. It’s important to note, entries related to stress were still recorded. Stress didn’t disappear in the lives of those that connected to gratitude. However, it didn’t dominate how people reacted to their day.
Science may still be figuring out exactly what’s happening in the brain and body when the emotion of gratitude is expressed, but we don’t have to wait for their findings to implement it for ourselves.
How Can We Feel Grateful When We’re Stressed?
The biggest question seems to be, “how can we feel gratitude when we are tsunami’d with a stressful situation?” It can be helpful to remember that we’re not running from the current situation or pretending it’s not that bad. In a field of triggering news, reports, and experiences, we want to begin each day (and possibly end each evening) with a solid foundation of gratefulness. It’s from this foundation that we can be less reactive to the periphery of external stresses while addressing the immediate ones that truly need our attention.
Start With Simple Steps
To begin the practice, start small.
- Every morning, say one thing you’re grateful for in that moment. Feel it. How? Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and as you exhale, say it out loud. Does it make you smile? Do you feel silly, like a little kid, or do you feel more in love with that moment?
- As you go through your day, try it again. Before you eat lunch, before opening your emails, while watching your kids or pets play…take a moment to close your eyes, inhale, and then exhale with a statement of gratitude. Let it be felt before moving on.
- End each night doing the same practice.
Check in after the first week of doing this gratitude practice regularly and notice if anything has changed. Are you feeling more patient? More calm? Or does everything feel the same? Keep practicing for another week and check back in.
Start increasing your practice after the first weeks by maintaining a feeling of gratitude for 5, 10 maybe even 20 minutes. Keep focused on the feeling. Studies from the HeartMath Institute show that prolonged periods of gratefulness bring us into heart coherency – a state that can improve overall health and well-being.
Practice Gratitude with a Friend
Still not convinced you can do it? Try teaming up with a friend. Share why you’re grateful for one another. Text each other one gratitude statement each morning. You can also help keep each other accountable. When external stressors seem to be the only topic of discussion, remind one another to pause for a moment and connect back to a feeling of gratitude. Don’t just say it; remember to feel it before moving back into your discussion and notice how immediately the tone changes.
Need More Ideas on How to Lower Reactions to Stress?
Want more ideas? Connect with us through the Veraki Personal Growth App. Articles, exercises, and visualizations on the Learn Page will help you with your gratitude practice. Your vision board can help you remember those grateful moments. And the Veraki community via the Connect Page will keep the conversation inspiring and motivating. The app is available in Apple and Google Play stores now.