How practicing gratitude can improve your physical and mental health: ‘Profound effects’

Estimated read time 7 min read

It’s easy to fall into the “complaint trap” these days — but shifting to a mindset of gratitude can do wonders for body and mind.

That’s according to Dr. Anne-Katherin Eiselt from Teladoc Health, a behavioral scientist and neuroscientist based in Washington, D.C.

Gratitude has been scientifically linked to reduced stress, lowered heart rate and improved emotional regulation, the doctor said.

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Heading into the sometimes stressful holiday season, Eiselt shared with Fox News Digital the core benefits of gratitude and tips to help people cultivate the practice.

Mental and emotional benefits

Practicing gratitude can lead to significant positive effects on both mental and physical well-being,” Eiselt said. 

Gratitude has been scientifically linked to reduced stress, lowered heart rate and improved emotional regulation. (iStock)

The act of expressing gratitude activates specific regions of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with emotion regulation, problem-solving and feelings of connection, the doctor said.

Cultivating gratitude can also lower the activity in brain areas related to stress, negative emotions and fear. 

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“By practicing gratitude regularly, we can strengthen those neural pathways associated with a positive mood and mental well-being, much as a workout strengthens a muscle, and create a more resilient mindset,” said Eiselt. 

Being grateful can also influence our physical health in surprising ways.

woman holding chest

Focusing on gratitude and maintaining a positive mindset can help “buffer” this stress response and enhance mood, coping abilities and overall well-being, said one doctor. (iStock)

“Our mind and body are interconnected, both influencing and responding to each other,” said Eisert. 

When we entertain negative thoughts, that can trigger the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which shifts the body into a “fight or flight” mode. 

“This stress response has profound effects on our body, and over time may contribute to chronic conditions and obesity,” she said. 

“Our mind and body are interconnected, both influencing and responding to each other.”

Focusing on gratitude and maintaining a positive mindset can help “buffer” this stress response and enhance mood, coping abilities and overall well-being, said Eisert.

One of the major physical manifestations of gratitude is improved sleep.

“Practicing gratitude can improve sleep quality by calming down the nervous system and helping the body to enter a state of relaxation,” Eisert said.

woman sleeps in bed

“Practicing gratitude can improve sleep quality by calming down the nervous system and helping the body to enter a state of relaxation,” the expert said. (iStock)

Emphasizing the positive aspects of our lives can also reduce the intrusive and negative thoughts that often disrupt sleep, the doctor pointed out.

“This is particularly important during the holiday season, a time often marked by increased stress and commotion,” Eiselt told Fox News Digital.

Another critical physical benefit is the effect that gratitude has on the cardiovascular system. 

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“Some studies have suggested that practicing gratitude may lead to lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation and other cardiovascular benefits,” said Eisert.

“Chronic stress and persistent negative emotions can contribute to health problems — and practicing gratitude and relaxation has been shown to counteract these negative effects.”

Tips for practicing gratitude

While gratitude tends to get more focus during the holiday season, practicing it consistently is associated with reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress, as well as a greater satisfaction with life, said Eisert. 

This “important yet simple” practice can easily be implemented into everyday routines, she said. 

Journal entry

Many people choose to participate in gratitude journaling or meditation. (iStock)

Many people choose to participate in gratitude journaling or meditation, said Eiselt — “but you can also start to establish a gratitude mindset, which includes reframing some of the challenging moments in your daily life by shifting your thoughts and inner self-talk toward the things you are thankful for.”

Find a window of time during the day when you can set aside a few minutes, she suggested — “before you go to bed, during your morning coffee or maybe even your lunch break” — to focus on your reasons for feeling grateful.

“Think about what you are grateful for — there is nothing too small. It could be anything from the sunrise to the feeling of fresh air on your skin.”

Next, find a comfortable spot and set a timer for a designated amount of time. This could be as brief as five minutes or a longer practice of 15 to 20 minutes.

“Think about what you are grateful for — there is nothing too small,” said Eiselt. “It could be anything from the sunrise to the feeling of fresh air on your skin.”

Friends smiling

One impactful yet simple way to practice gratitude is to thank someone every day, said an expert. (iStock)

As you think about each source of gratitude, Eiselt said you could make a list, write a letter, pen a journal entry or reflect on stories you’ve heard from others. 

“Studies have shown that listening to others’ stories of gratefulness can be just as effective, as long as it is genuine,” she said. 

For those who aren’t sure where to start, there are also guided gratitude meditations available. 

“Nurturing a gratitude mindset starts by changing our self-talk or inner monologue as we interpret the world from a different lens.”

Another impactful yet simple way to practice gratitude is to thank someone every day, said Eiselt. 

“Start by thinking of something kind or generous that someone has done for you recently that made you thankful,” she suggested. 

“You can write about it or even reach out to thank them. They will most likely appreciate hearing from you, and you might start a chain of kindness and gratefulness, inspiring others to be more thankful, too.”

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When it comes to building a routine of practicing gratitude, Eiselt noted that “there is no one-size-fits-all — in order for it to stick, it needs to fit into your day and busy life.”

“Practicing gratitude is not about completing another item on your to-do list,” she said. “It is about becoming aware, about noticing and acknowledging the good things around us.”

For optimal mental and physical health, a gratitude practice should be complemented by other healthy lifestyle behaviors, Eiselt said.

Healthy eating

For optimal mental and physical health, a gratitude practice should be complemented by other healthy lifestyle behaviors. (iStock)

Those include eating well, getting proper sleep, being physically active and spending time outdoors in the sunlight, as well as engaging in positive social interactions.

“These all contribute to better health and increased feelings of well-being,” she said.

Above all, practicing gratitude involves recognizing and acknowledging the good things, experiences and people in our lives, said Eiselt.

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“Nurturing a gratitude mindset starts by changing our self-talk or inner monologue as we interpret the world from a different lens,” she said. 

“It takes conscious effort, yet the benefits for both our mental and physical well-being are well worth it.”

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