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Give thanks for your health

Thanksgiving is a time to be especially grateful for all of life’s many blessings. We encourage children to make lists of things they appreciate. Yet, expressing gratitude should be a part of daily living throughout the year-not just thanksgiving tradition. Why? Research shows that gratitude has an immense positive effect on physical and mental health.

One of the components of chiropractic lifestyle is embracing positive thinking to support physical health. This way of life is rooted in disease prevention through healthy life choices and chiropractic care. Its obvious that reducing emotions like stress, frustration and anger improves mental and physical well being. Now research also shows that expressing gratitude and appreciation has a direct positive effect on sleep, well-being, depression and disease.

Boost well-being

In a 21-day study, researchers examined the effect of grateful outlook on psychological and physical function. The researchers divided the test subjects into three groups and asked them to keep weekly journals. They asked participants in the first group to record hassles; individuals in the second created grateful lists; and the third cohort recorded neutral events. Individuals, who kept gratitude journals exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole and were optimistic about the upcoming week, compared with the other two groups. Those practicing gratitude were also more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals, such as academic, interpersonal and health, over a two month period compared with subjects in the other groups. The research concluded that “a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”

Improve sleep

Have trouble sleeping? Expressing gratitude may help you stop counting sheep and get some zzz’s. As a subset study of the 21-day journal research experiment, researchers assigned patients with neuromuscular disease the same three journal conditions: hassles, gratitude or neutral events. Subjects in the gratitude group were also more apt to report increased emotional well-being, such as higher energy level, positive moods, a greater sense of connectedness to others and more optimistic view of life, compared with the other groups.

Manage crises better

Ask people what it takes to survive a crisis, and they’ll probably list courage, perseverance and determination. However, research shows that softer emotions, such as gratitude and caring are fundamental in overcoming tragedy. In a university based study, researchers assessed personality traits of 46 students in early 2001 and in the weeks following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Individuals with a positive emotions, mainly gratitude and love, were less likely to suffer depressive symptoms and most likely to cope and experience a growth in psychological resources, than those who lacked empathetic characteristics. “Finding suggests that positive emotions in the aftermath of crises suffer resilient people against depression and fuel thriving.” Conclude the researchers.

Combat stress and depression

Those who express gratitude regularly are more apt to feel happier, relaxed and energetic, emotions that are linked to reducing stress and depression. Researchers’ hypothesize that expressing appreciation or gratitude decreases levels of the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.

Prevent heart disease

Hearts that are full of gratitude are most likely to be healthy. Why? Evidence suggests that positive emotions from gratitude to optimism protect against coronary artery disease (CAD). While conversely, research shows that negative emotional states and dress can cause a “chronic stress response” in the body. The “hyper arousal” response may cause changes in heart rate and blood pressure and delayed recovery to stressful stimuli, increasing risks for CAD.

How to give thanks

Let’s face it: expressing gratitude and appreciation isn’t always easy. It may be especially difficult when events or people fall short of our expectations. Don’t despair. Becoming a gratitude guru is easier than you think. Here is a list of suggestions to help bring gratitude into your daily living.

  • Keep a journal or gratitude list
  • Find five things a day that you’re grateful for and write them down
  • Place the list in a place that’s frequently accessed, such as posted to the refrigerator, in a wallet or affixed to a computer monitor.
  • Start off slowly, it’s better to record a few true expressions of gratitude than false improvisations. At first, quality may be more important than quantity
  • Share your daily gratitude list with family members during dinner. This not only promotes keeping your list, but also spending quality time together as a family.
  • Make a point to share with at least one person each day a sentence beginning, “I’m so grateful for your…”
  • Catch a co-worker or child “doing something right” and make a point to tell him or her.
  • Send a thank-you note to a friend or family member, even if there is no specific reason other than thanking him for being a part of your life.
  • Volunteer your time to a food pantry or Local Park clean up.
  • Put yourself in others shoes before judging. Appreciate their contributions and perspectives even if they’re different from yours.

C. Chae Tracy, DC

- Curis Functional Health
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