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“Life therapy”; what the &%$!@# is that?!

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“Life therapy”; what the &%$!@# is that?!

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“Life therapy”. The term or expression came about when talking with a couple of my colleagues a few months ago. I had recently been away for the weekend and mentioned having really enjoyed going for long walks on the beach while looking for sea glass: “It felt so good; long walks outside in nature really are MY therapy.” We started talking about the importance of finding something that you enjoy, that nurtures you and helps you to feel your best as being one’s “life therapy”. This idea of “life therapy” isn’t meant to replace traditional therapy in the office; what we refer to as “life therapy” are simply actions or things that you can do that allow you to care for yourself with kindness and help you feel your best. In other words, these are small things (they add up!) that can help us to be in a better position to enjoy life and navigate through its occasional challenges.  Essentially, the idea of life therapy is what is often referred to these days as self-care; something we are hearing more and more about in the media. The term self-care is sometimes misinterpreted, however, as being indulgent, and can have a negative connotation, as was well explained by Brianna Wiest in this article: “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from".

We believe that traditional psychotherapy (what happens in the office) is most often best suited on a short-term basis (not for life!); and one of the things we strive to assist our clients with during therapy is to help them to identify the things in their lives that allow them to feel their best. We like to call this “life therapy”. “Life therapy” refers to anything you do that helps you to feel well, healthy, balanced and generally happy. It’s a series of actions or behaviors that contribute to your overall health and well-being. I like to encourage my clients to experiment, and try different things until they find whatever it is that works best for them and helps them to feel their best.

I’m not suggesting that “life therapy” can protect anyone from experiencing harder times; challenges and ups and downs are a natural part of life (and some are more difficult than others), but the idea is that there are things we can do to care for ourselves that help us to navigate through the tough times and can help us to cope better. Ideally, we have a number of things we do that help us feel our best; things that are accessible and sustainable. Naturally, these things may change over time based on our needs, interests, etc., but the idea remains the same - taking time on a regular basis to prioritize yourself and to slow down, showing yourself kindness and connecting with yourself so that you can be attentive to your needs and honor them in a way that feels right for YOU. Of course, this will vary enormously from one person to another, because we all have different needs, interests, etc. The idea is to find what works for YOU and that whatever you choose as your “life therapy”, that it will be something you can realistically fit into your routine and commit to making happen fairly regularly as a practice (and YES, it’s totally normal to get off course; the idea here is that we catch ourselves when we get off our regular course of action and then choose to come back to our practice). Whatever that action may be, it will be something that has the effect of helping you to feel balanced, gives you a sense of well-being and a sense that you are working towards living your best life. There will be times when it is tougher to commit to our practice, when we might neglect to actually do the things that help us feel our best, (like when life gets tougher or busier, which is often when we could probably most benefit from it, - but this is LIFE!). The idea is to try and commit to noticing and catching this happening, and then choosing to restart your practice even when you fall off your “self-care wagon”. At Connecte, we encourage our clients to take time to connect with what’s important to them, with their needs and to honor them in whatever way is appropriate for them. For some, this may mean taking regular baths while reading a good book and for someone else it might be going for regular walks in nature or even getting outside to enjoy a long run. For more on helping identify what self-care/life therapy means to you and on how to make your self-care sustainable, check out Jodie’s blog post, Want to Change the World? Start by Connecting to You.

Thanks and Credit for use of photo : @ keswickandweldon

Thanks and Credit for use of photo : @ keswickandweldon

Keep in mind that our needs are likely to change over time, and it’s important to be flexible and in tune with our bodies, ourselves and to adjust and adapt as needed. Explore this idea of being flexible when it comes to our self-care further in Maeve’s blog post, Those Times When “Being Healthy”…. Isn’t. How To Integrate Self-Care Into Our Exercise Goals.

We want to hear from you!!

Some readers may not like the term “life therapy”; our idea was to find a word to refer to the thing(s) that one can do to help care for themselves and feel their best. It refers to what others tend to call self-care, but perhaps has a less negative connotation as being something indulgent. The idea of including the word life in our term “life therapy” is essentially that “life therapy” is something we intend to do over the course of our lives. It refers to something we prioritize and are committed to making happen (sort of like taking care of our teeth throughout our lives with regular visits to the dentist and daily brushing and flossing, etc.,). We would love to hear your thoughts about this idea of “life therapy” and hope you will share with us!

  • What sorts of things do you consider to be your “therapy”?
  • What do you think of the idea of “life therapy”?
  • What do you think of what we have chosen to call it (for now!)?

If you have suggestions for what this could be called; something other than life therapy or self-care, we would love to hear from you below in the comments or you can hop on over to Connecte's Instagram and leave your suggestions there, or tag a picture of your #lifetherapy moment!


Andrea Martin is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


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The importance of unplugging

The importance of unplugging

“Mummy, you are on your phone WAY too much”. BOOM. These are words spoken to me just a few days ago by my 7-year-old daughter, and they hit me. Hard. You know what they say, “Children and fools always speak the truth” (Mark Twain). Indeed, you can often rely on a child to give it to you straight! My daughter’s words stung a little and they also got me thinking, although I thought I was being mindful of not using my electronic devices too much when in the presence of my children, I took a step back and reflected and realized that my little sweetie is probably right; I probably am using my phone too much in their presence (not to mention using it too much overall!). 

These days, people tend to be “on” pretty much all the time. Many of us use our electronic devices or cell phones not only as phones but also to text, email, surf the internet, do our banking, get directions and take pictures among other things. We also often use them to check the time and as alarm clocks (what happened to a good old alarm clock or a watch?!) so they are within reach most of the time; in our pocket or purse, on our desk or even on our night tables (so it’s likely that they are being used before we turn in for the night and first thing in the morning upon waking as well). Recent data confirms that Canadians rely heavily on their electronic devices; in fact, it has been reported that Canadians check their smartphones 6 times per hour on average and 82% of Canadians report that they use their phone at least once an hour (CIBC poll conducted by Harris/Decima, 2014). These data suggest that the tendency in North America is to rely heavily on our electronic devices most likely because of the convenience they offer not to mention the dopamine rush we get when we do something that feels good, which increases the likelihood that we will repeat the behaviour. The pleasure you get from hearing the beep of your phone when receiving a text from a friend or several likes on a photo you have posted on Instagram makes it more likely you will check your phone, or make new posts, etc.). “Our brains lay down a memory so it will remember to do it again” explains psychiatrist Judson Brewer specializing in addiction (Brewer, 2014).

It’s hard to argue with the fact that there are many advantages associated with the technology and with using our electronic devices or cell phones. Among these include being able to connect with people all over the world with the push of a button, easily sharing information with others, having access to an abundance of information at our fingertips, a source of amusement and entertainment, and one cannot argue that they are practical (how cool is it that you can shop online pretty much anywhere for pretty much anything at any time of day? I admit to having gotten a real kick out of placing an order for groceries while heading back to the city from a weekend away to have them delivered upon my arrival, or purchasing a book to read when vacationing in a remote area without access to a bookstore). That being said, there are many disadvantages to using these devices carelessly and there can be too much of a good thing.

Many of us (I am guilty of this myself!) carry our cell phones with us most of the time (almost all the time?!), which doesn’t allow us to have time “off” where we truly disconnect. By carrying our electronic devices around with us, we are making ourselves available by phone and through our email and other social media accounts pretty much ALL. THE. TIME. The result is that we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to disconnect and enjoy much needed empty space. I will be the first to admit as well that I tend to check my phone when “waiting”; when in line at the grocery store or when picking up a coffee in the morning at my local coffee shop, during a commute using public transportation or as a passenger in the car, waiting for an appointment at the doctor or dentist, during commercials when watching TV, or even in between clients when I’m working (that little window of just a few minutes could be much better spent getting up and walking or stretching, getting a glass of water to stay hydrated, or even getting outside for a short walk or breath of fresh air!). Many of us have developed a habit of checking in with our phones during a moment where, in the past, we would more likely have checked in with ourselves; taken some deep breaths and allowed our mind to wander- naturally as it should!

Being “on” like this all the time can be quite tiring and draining and doesn’t allow us to truly disconnect. It can also have a negative impact on our mood, our performance, our health and our relationships and it eats up a lot of precious time we could be using more mindfully on an activity we are likely to get more out of (ex. spending time in nature, reading a book, listening to a podcast, etc.).

Recent studies have reported on the potentially negative impacts of the use of electronic devices such as reduced quality of relationships, a decrease in productivity, disturbed sleep, and negative impact on mood.

“Technology is a blessing and a curse. Like anything, moderation is the key. Work to keep it positive and make the technology work for you, not the other way around.” Tim Elmore

Interference with relationships

It has been found that electronic devices can have a negative impact on the quality of our relationships. The mere presence of a cell phone (without even actually using it!) was found to have an impact on perceived closeness, connection and perceived empathy, particularly when discussing something meaningful (Przybylski & Weinstein, 2013).

Use of cell phones can interfere with relationships, because they can interfere with our ability to focus and to be present and truly connected with our loved ones. On a couple of occasions, I have had young clients (around the age of 10 years old) that when asked what their 3 wishes would be if they could have absolutely anything respond by saying they want their parents to spend less time on their electronic devices. Indeed, when we are with our loved ones, if we are looking at our phones to check emails or Facebook for example, or even answer texts or phone calls, we are distracted, our attention is not focused on the person in front of us.

Decreased productivity

Multitasking seems to be something we encourage and even glorify, thinking it makes us more productive because we are doing more than one thing at once (we must be getting ahead faster, right?!), yet what the research has shown, is that in fact, this is not the case. Our brains are not meant to multitask (more than two tasks simultaneously). More specifically it has been found that multitasking can lead to increasing the likelihood of making more errors (Charron & Koechlin, 2010). It has also been suggested that the use of cell phones and electronic devices can have a negative impact on our ability to concentrate. In fact, it has been found that the mere presence of a cell phone can be distracting and interfere with one’s ability to concentrate contributing to decreased performance and even productivity at work or at school (Thorton et al. 2014).

Sleep disturbances

The use of electronic devices has also been found to interfere with the quality of our sleep. Young adults (between the ages of 20-24) who were self-reported heavy internet users were found to be at greater risk of disturbed sleep as well as of mental health problems (Thomee et al., 2012). Other studies have highlighted the fact that the use of light-emitting devices, such as e-readers before bed, can interfere with sleep (Chang et al., 2015).

Changes in mood

The use of electronic devices might also have an impact on our mood or perceived levels of stress. One research study examined the impact of work email in a population of engineers and found that time spent emailing for work can result in feeling overloaded, and induce feelings of stress, regardless of the work created by the emails received (Barley et al. 2011). Frequent mobile use has also been found to be associated with stress and sleep disturbance in young adult men (Thomee et al., 2011). Another study conducted by the International Center for Media and Public Agenda with a sample of 200 students from the University of Maryland found that when asked to abstain from using all media for 24 hours and share their experience, participants reported feeling very isolated, lonely, bored, uncomfortable and anxious. This suggests that we have become so dependent on our devices that when we are without them we feel uncomfortable because we are no longer used to having “empty time” and sitting with our thoughts, and the skills/habits to interact with our environment have become less habitual to us.

Overall, these research findings explored above consistently suggest that the use of electronic devices can have a negative impact on our relationships, our productivity, quality of sleep and even our mental health.

OK, so what can we do? 
**Note that I will be trying these techniques out myself as of today; who’s with me?!

Use our electronic devices with intention

Use our devices mindfully! For example, if you decide that you want to see what’s new with your friends on Facebook, try and plan beforehand how much time you want to devote to this activity and limit yourself. It’s easy to get caught up and lose track of time and find yourself spending longer than have expected or intended to online. There are also several apps that can help; for example: Self Control (allows you to program that your computer be offline for pre-set time intervals), RescueTime or Break Free (tracks your online activity to help create awareness about your use and then allows you to set goals to reduce online activity with the help of alarms, automatic messages, scheduled offline time, etc.). Simply turning off notifications or removing certain apps from your phone can help as well as it can reduce the temptation to check (we all have a limited source of willpower, right?!).

Find an alternative: do you need to use your phone for that?

Use a watch or an alarm instead of your phone to check the time (just picking up our phone makes it more likely that we will start checking other things mindlessly and get sucked into a dark hole!) Try using a camera to take pictures. If attending a social function or spending time in nature, rather than bring our phone along to take pictures, why not bring an actual camera?

Plan to unplug

Choose a regular time to unplug and disconnect from your phone. Perhaps you will choose to put your phone away when you get home from work until after the children are in bed and put your phone away an hour before your bedtime. Another option could be to try spending a weekend afternoon without access to your phone so you can be fully present during your activities. Apps such as Self Control or Digital Detox might help with this!

Remember, “Almost everything will work better if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you” (Anne Lammott). 


Andrea Martin is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References

Barley, S.R., Meyerson, D., E., Grodal, S. (2011). E-mail as a source and symbol of stress. Organization Science. Vol. 22(4): 887–906.

Brewer, Judson. (2014). Beware the Habit-Forming Brain. How to tame your constant cravings by getting to know your brain better. Mindful Magazine. December, 2014.

Chang, A.M., Aeschbach, D., Duffy, J.F., Czeisler, C.A. (2015).  Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proceedings of the National Institute of Science of the United States of America. Vol 112(4): 1232-7.

Charron, S., Koechlin, E. (2010). Divided Representation of Concurrent Goals in the Human Frontal Lobes. Science. Vol 328 (5976): 360-363.

CIBC Poll: Checked your smartphone recently? Canadian smartphone owners say they check their mobile device every 10 minutes on average. NewsWire. TORONTO, Feb. 4, 2014. See http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/cibc-poll-checked-your-smartphone-recently-canadian-smartphone-owners-say-they-check-their-mobile-device-every-10-minutes-on-average-513665311.html

Elmore, Tim. (2012). The Unintended Consequences of Technology. https://growingleaders.com/blog/the-unintended-consequences-of-technology/

Przybylski, A.K., Weinstein, N. (2013). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality 2013 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships Vol 30(3): 237-245.

Thorton, B., Faires, A., Robbins, M., Rollins, E. (2014). The mere presence of a cell phone may be distracting: Implications for attention and task performance. Social Psychology, Vol 45(6): 479-488.

Thomee, S., Harenstam, Hagberg, M. (2011). Mobile phone use and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression among young adults - a prospective cohort study. BMC Public Health, Vol 11: 66.

Thomee, S., Harenstam, A., Hagberg, M. (2012). Computer use and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression among young adults--a prospective cohort study. BMC Psychiatry. Vol 12: 176.

Introducing Connecte’s “Daily Mental Health Boost Tips” on Instagram

Introducing Connecte’s “Daily Mental Health Boost Tips” on Instagram

One of our aims at Connecte is to bring psychology to the average person by making research findings more accessible (not to mention more interesting, inspiring and fun!). Psychology truly is fascinating, and as the study of how our mind works and how it connects to our body and everything around us, we feel it’s important to share this precious information to help empower people and give them tools to lead happier and more fulfilling lives. Many people don’t have time (or the interest, we are fully aware that not everyone enjoys reading articles in scientific journals- LOL!) to sift through the scientific literature on how to improve one’s health and well-being. With our solid research backgrounds, keen curiosity and experiences in clinical, social, health, community and positive psychology, our aim is to cut through the hype that’s out there and bring the best scientific based findings to you. One way we hope to do this is through our “Daily Mental Health Tips” shared on Instagram.

In October 2016, we began sharing a daily post including a picture accompanied by a short description including an action tip on something you can do to help improve your general well-being and mental health. In our society, there is so much emphasis placed on the importance of caring for our physical health, which we agree is important, yet, we see health and well-being as something that includes both physical AND mental health. There has been more in the media about the importance of mental health, but, unfortunately there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness, and in general, people aren’t always well informed on how to promote their mental well-being. This is something we are passionate about helping people with! We believe that both physical and mental health are important to our functioning and for living a fulfilling and satisfying life. Like physical health, mental health can be strengthened through daily practice. Through our daily mental health boost project (and other exciting projects- stay tuned!), we hope to share information on simple ways to improve your well-being and achieve a more balanced life.

We hope to share ideas on things we can all easily incorporate into our busy lives to help improve our mood and care for our well-being. So often we hear clients say things such as “I don’t have time to exercise, I have too much work” or “When I’m done school, I can take time to focus on exercise and eating better” “I want to work hard to get that promotion, and then I can take some time to spend with my family”, etc. We get that life is busy and that between obligations such as school or work and time for family and friends, etc., it can be tough to find time for your own self-care. Our hope is that these posts will inspire and empower you to make small changes that are quite simple to implement, yet, will have a positive impact on your health and well-being.  It’s amazing the impact small changes such as incorporating mindfulness into your day or creating a gratitude practice can have on helping achieve greater balance and ultimately living a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

We hope you will join us on this journey to develop greater resilience, mental strength and overall well-being. Please check out some of our latest posts (see below!) on Instagram for quick and easy tips on how you can improve your mental strength and overall well-being. While you’re there, why not share your ideas and help empower others with your own strategies you use to practice self-care or improve your well-being? Let’s lift each other up and support each other by sharing strategies with others!  In doing so, we can create a community to promote well-being, self-care and mental wealth. Just think, simply sharing ideas is a way to give back to others and spread kindness which has been found in recent studies to have a positive impact on mental health. Helping others can also help you to create a sense of purpose, increase feelings of connection to others and can bring a sense of satisfaction. Please share your pictures and hashtag #connectepsychology and #dailymentalhealthboost. We can’t wait for you to check out our posts and see what you think of these strategies and look forward to hearing about your strategies too!


Andrea Martin is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


Check out some of our favorite daily mental health boost posts @ConnectePsychology on Instagram

Nature has a positive impact on our mental health!


A revised holiday to-do list: let's ditch the typical "shoulds"!


Drawing is a mindful activity that can help you feel more relaxed!


Connecte's Podcast is up on iTunes!


Trying to change the way we think about a situation can help us change how we feel about it!


Music can boost our mental health!


Why Self-Compassion?

Why Self-Compassion?

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A couple of weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday morning I set out to do some errands with my daughter. Our first stop was a big store a bit out of the way and one that I would usually avoid on the weekend because it is often very busy (and the experience can be less than pleasant!). We spent about 45 minutes shopping and getting everything on our long list of items we needed. We then waited about 10 minutes in line to pay and once the cashier rung up our cart full of items I dug into my purse to grab my wallet only to discover (to my serious dismay!) that it wasn’t there! In that moment, I realized I had taken my wallet out of my purse the night before and remembered having left it on the counter in the kitchen. Ugh! After all that time spent getting there and looking for everything on the list I was going to leave empty handed?! I was not a happy camper to say the least! I apologized to the cashier and asked her to keep my items aside for me promising to come back shortly and pay for my order, which she kindly accepted to do. As my daughter and I walked back to the car hand in hand and I apologized to her (there was a snack among those items we had to leave behind that she was hungry for!) and she looked up at me and said, “That’s ok mummy, we all make mistakes. In this big world, I bet lots of people have forgotten their wallet like that, its no big deal, we will just come back later”. I was stunned by my little 7 year old’s compassion (and wisdom!). She was absolutely right. I wondered if my body language had communicated that I was frustrated as I had been quite silent walking back to the car (although to be honest, my inner dialogue included some self criticism for my forgetfulness). It got me thinking more about something I work on with many of my clients (not to mention myself!), the topic of self-compassion.

We are hearing more about self-compassion in the media, but based on what some of my clients say or ask about this concept, there seems to be some misconception about the concept.  So what is self-compassion really? Self-compassion is basically the idea of treating and speaking to yourself as you would a friend or family member, or someone who is dear to you. So for example, on my trip to the store when I forgot my wallet rather than criticise myself for having been absent-minded I could have asked myself how I would speak to a friend had they been in this same situation. Would I have criticised a friend for this? Not a chance! I’d have tried to be understanding and supportive by reminding them that we all make mistakes from time to time, particularly when we are busy or have a lot on our minds. I also might have tried to use some humour to help my friend make light of the situation and change her way of thinking about it. Unfortunately, many of us tend to be very critical of ourselves and speak to ourselves in such a way that we wouldn’t consider speaking to a friend or someone we care about (and this is probably because if we did, we wouldn’t have many friends left!).

When I introduce the concept of self-compassion with some clients I get a sense of resistance to the idea and when we explore this further in session, we often discover that there is some confusion about what exactly self-compassion is. Self-compassion is not having low expectations or making excuses for ourselves, it isn’t being self-indulgent and it isn’t a pity party. The idea of being compassionate towards ourselves encourages us to take responsibility for our behaviour (shortcomings and all!) but it also involves acceptance of ourselves as we are and treating ourselves in a gentle and supportive way.  Being compassionate towards yourself doesn’t mean you don’t have goals or work hard, it simply means being mindful of your experience, being kind and understanding as you would be with someone you care about, and recognizing you are not alone in your mistakes and weaknesses, they are a normal part of human life.

Research has demonstrated that there are a number of benefits to being self-compassionate including less anxiety and depression (MacBeth & Gumley, 2012; Neff, 2003) a more positive mood in general (Neff et al., 2007) and greater resilience following a separation or divorce (Sbarra et al., 2012). It appears too that interpersonal functioning is greater for those with greater self-compassion (Neff & Beretvas, 2012). Self-compassion has also been found to be associated with greater motivation for self-improvement and change (Breins & Chen, 2012).

Want to know more about self-compassion?

Check out this great little video on self-compassion; in just 4 minutes, you’ll learn more about self-compassion and it includes a simple exercise on how to improve your self-compassion: 

Hungry for more on the topic of self-compassion? 

Check out Kristin Neff’s (the worlds leading expert on self-compassion) website. It includes an abundance of excellent resources on self-compassion including a short test to evaluate how compassionate you are towards yourself. Check it out here: Test How Self-Compassionate You Are


Andrea Martin is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


REFERENCES

Breins, J. G. & Chen, S. (2012). Self-compassion increases achievement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(9): 1133-43

MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 32, 545- 552.

Neff, K. D. (2003). Development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223-250.

Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K. & Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and its link to adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 139-154.

Neff, K. D., & Beretvas, S. N. (2012). The role of self-compassion in romantic relationships. Self and Identity. 12: 78-98.

Sbarra, D.A., Smith, H.L., Mehl, M.R. (2012). When Leaving your Ex, Love yourself: Observational Ratings of Self-compassion: Predict the Course of Emotional Recovery following Divorce or Separation.  Psychological Science. 23(3): 261-9.

What’s the big deal about gratitude?

What’s the big deal about gratitude?

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Gratitude refers to being grateful, thankful and appreciative. In the last few years, there has been more and more attention in the media about the benefits of gratitude. Recently, a couple of my clients wanted to know what all the hype surrounding gratitude was, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a little with you about the many benefits associated with gratitude and a bit about how to cultivate your own gratitude practice.

In the last ten years or so, there has been a fair amount of research on gratitude. Studies have clearly demonstrated that gratitude is beneficial on a number of levels and that it can have a positive impact on one’s quality of life. It has been proven to have a positive effect on general well-being and other aspects of mental health and, more recently, an attitude of gratitude has also been found to have a positive effect on physical health. Practicing gratitude is something we can all do; it is simple, doesn’t require any sort of equipment or involve any expense and one can incorporate an attitude of gratitude into their life in little time.  Great! What are we waiting for and how do we get started?

Let’s start by examining the benefits of developing an attitude of gratitude. How does gratitude really help? 

Physical benefits

Recent studies have demonstrated that individuals who are more grateful tend to be in better physical health. More specifically, those who are more grateful are less likely to experience pain, and they are more likely to take better care of their health by exercising regularly and scheduling regular medical check-ups (1, 2). It has also been suggested that a simple gratitude practice such as noting what they are grateful for before bed can help to improve duration and quality of sleep (3, 4) increase energy levels and reduce blood pressure.

Benefits on Mental Health

Gratitude has also been found to have a positive impact on our general well-being and mental health. Robert Emmons, PhD (recognized as the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and a psychology professor at the University of California) has done a lot of research in this area and his studies have confirmed that gratitude decreases depression (5) and increases overall happiness (6). Studies have also demonstrated that gratitude can help to improve self-esteem (7, 8) and promote resilience and reduce the chances of developing PSTD after experiencing trauma (9). 

How can we incorporate an attitude of gratitude into our lives?

There are many ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  A popular strategy is to keep a gratitude journal and either start or finish the day by taking note of a few things that you feel grateful for. When people do this systematically, it creates a shift towards a greater awareness and appreciation of the positive things around them. There are also a number of popular gratitude apps such as Gratitude Diary App, Gratitude!, Attitude of gratitude, and Happify, which make keeping a gratitude journal easy and practical. A couple of months ago, my husband and I began using the “5 minute Journal” (10) which is a little more elaborate than a simple gratitude journal, but it includes a daily gratitude list as well as other daily entries that help create more awareness of positives in our lives (and we are both really enjoying using it!).

Other ways to express gratitude might be by sending a thank you note or an email to express thanks to someone who you haven’t had a chance to express thanks to, such as a crossing guard or a bus driver. Studies have shown that this sort of exercise will help increase levels of happiness in the person delivering the thanks and also increases happiness in the person receiving the thanks (11).

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Gratitude and children

For those of you with children, you will be interested to learn that there has been some research on gratitude and children. In fact, studies have found that children who are grateful tend to be happier and express greater life satisfaction (12). Gratitude has also been found to related to greater well-being and less negative affect in early adolescents(13). Among older youth (14-19 years) research has demonstrated that grateful teenagers report greater life satisfaction, are more engaged (both at school and in their extracurricular activities) and perform better at school. They also report less depression and are less materialistic (14).

As a parent of young children, I have found myself feeling frustrated at times thinking that they take things for granted or lack appreciation. I did some reading on fostering gratitude in children and began to try taking a few minutes at the end of the day to ask them what they are grateful for. I usually do this either at dinner as a family or at bedtime when tucking them into bed. I tend to opt for asking this at bedtime because I find that it’s a nice way to connect and share one-on-one with each of my little ones.  Doing this encourages us to pause and reflect on our days together and appreciate moments from our day. I’m often really touched by what they come up with, and this has become a precious part of my day, and often something I find myself adding to my own gratitude list. You can also try asking your child to draw something they are grateful for, or to make a gratefulness collage. These are nice options for ways to encourage your child to slow down and take the time to reflect on things they are thankful for. Such practices also offer the opportunity as a parent to model gratefulness by sharing with them what you are grateful for, and it can allow you to learn something from your child.

A nice book to share with young children to help introduce the idea of gratitude is How Full is Your Bucket (15).

I invite you to take a couple of minutes now to think about what you have to be grateful for in your life. I know for myself these days, it’s often something related to my family and friends or the weather that has helped the trees and flowers start to bloom. What are YOU grateful for today? Please share pictures of whatever you are feeling grateful for today on social media (Facebook and Instagram) and don’t forget to tag us at #connetepsychology. We will be grateful to you for sharing!


Andrea Martin is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References 

1. Hill, P. L., Allemand, M., & Roberts, B. W. (2013). Examining the pathways between gratitude and self-rated physical health. Personality and Individual Differences, 54, 92-96.

2. Emmons, Robert A.; McCullough, Michael E. (2003).  Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2): 377-389.

3. Digdon, N., Koble, A. (2011). Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3(2): 193-206.

4. Wood, A.M., Jospeh, S., Lloyd, J., Atkins, S. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 66(1): 43-48.

5. Wood, A. (2010). Gratitude and Well Being: A review and theoretical Integration. Clinical Psychology Review. Wood, A. M., et al., Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration, Clinical Psychology Review 30(7): 890-905.

6. Emmons,  Robert. A. (2007). Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Books.

7. Lin, C.C. (2015). The relationships among gratitude, self-esteem, depression, and suicidal ideation among undergraduate students. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 56(6): 700-707.

8. Chen, L.H., Wu, C-H. (2014). Gratitude Enhances Change in Athletes’ Self-Esteem: The Moderating Role of Trust in Coach. Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, (3): 349-362.

9. Fredrickson, B., Tugade, M.M., Waugh, C.E., Larkin, G.R. (2003). What Good Are Positive Emotions in Crises? A Prospective Study of Resilience and Emotions Following the Terrorist Attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2): 365–376.

10. Ikkon, A., Ramdas, U.J. (2013).  The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day.  Intelligent Change Inc.

11. Seligman ME1, Steen TA, Park N, Peterson C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American Psychology, 60(5): 410-421.

12. Park. N., Peterson., C. (2006). Character Strengths and Happiness among Young Children: Content Analysis of Parental Descriptions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(3): 323-341.

13. Froh, J.J., Sefick, W.J., Emmons, J.A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46: 213–233.

14. Froh, J. J.,Fan, J., Emmons, R. A., Bono, G., Huebner, E. S., & Watkins, P. (2011). Measuring gratitude in youth: Assessing the psychometric properties of adult gratitude scales in children and adolescents. Psychological Assessment, 23(2): 311-324.

15. Rath, T., Reckmeyer, M. How full is your bucket? For Kids.  Gallup Press.