Steve Daily

An Antidote to Anxiety, Depression, & Hurt Relationships

Saturday, August 06, 2016
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Steve Daily

Gratitude is the antidote for anxiety, depression and hurt relationships. I have discovered in my reading and my work with numerous clients that simple gratitude has enormous healing power. Psychologists have for years helped persons to stop an undesired behavior by having a client practice an incompatible behavior. It is hard for little Tommy to be hitting his sister when he is giving her a hug. It is difficult for Mike to eat that piece of cheese cake while he is doing yard work outside. It is also difficult for Mary to worry about her children as she thinks about how grateful she is that they are healthy and happy as she watches them play.

Worry and anxiety are incompatible with gratitude. It is difficult to think the worse when you focus on what you know is good.  At times we can curb negative worry thoughts with what I call "I honestly feel ________ AND I'm thankful for ___________ statements." The following is an example of a man using this type of thinking to counter the fact that he is worried about how layoffs that are coming at work could affect him and his family. He writes, "I honestly feel anxious about the possibility that I could lose my job, and I am grateful that my wife has her job and that we have the resources to survive if I'm forced to look for another job." Look at how this differs from the negative ruminating thoughts that we often automatically go to. "I know I'm going to lose my job." "It will be devastating, and I don't know how we'll survive." "What if my wife gets fed up and leaves me?"

How are gratitude and depression incompatible? How does a person who is deeply depressed typically think? My experience is that persons deeply depressed engage in negative thinking that fuels their depression. There are many things that depressed persons can and need to do to lessen or overcome their depression. Gratitude is one of those and it is powerful. In a seminar I attended several years ago, the presenter talked about a positive psychology experiment where people were checked for their level of depression before and after completing a gratitude assignment. Persons were asked to write a gratitude letter to someone within driving distance of them who had a powerful impact on their life. They were then asked to call that person and meet with them. Then they read the letter to the person and presented it to the individual who had positively impacted their life.  On average persons completing this gratitude assignment showed a decrease of 50% on the depression checklist.

Gratitude can also bring healing to relationships. When persons are angered at a loved one, thoughts tend to be judgmental and words are often blaming. If a person takes a simple time out to cool down and think more rationally, he or she can identify many positive things that loved one has done.  Instead of going off in a rage, one can start the conversation with words of gratitude followed with honest feelings and a request. Here is an example of a father talking to his teenage son about failing to mow the lawn. "Jeff I am appreciative of so much you do around here, like helping your sister with her homework and loading and unloading the dishwasher. I am frustrated that when I got home that you didn't get the lawn mowed as you agreed to do. I'd like to know why you didn't get it mowed and when you think you can do it." Realize that you feel better and are less angry if you pause a moment and remember gratitude. Responding mindfully with awareness of gratitude can strengthen relationships.