Is the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on your sleep? You’d be in good company if so. So many of us are lying awake in anxiety and frustration as our minds spin wildly through worries and what-ifs. And that leaves our emotional state even more frayed the following day as we face a fresh onslaught of challenges and bad news – but with even less emotional resilience to cope with it.
The good news is that there’s a simple but amazingly powerful antidote that we can call on at any time to interrupt the cycle of anxiety. It’s something that I’ve been doing for almost 10 years now and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. So what is this magical habit? It’s a gratitude journal. It’s incredibly simple to do: I jot down three to five things that I’m grateful for from that day. The journal I’ve been using for the past few years is the brilliant Five Minute Journal – but a simple pad will do fine. The trick is to write the things down rather than simply thinking them: there’s something about transferring these thoughts into written words that makes this practice so effective.
It’s comforting to know that we can only think one thing at once. That means that if we’re expressing our gratitude for the lovely text you received from a friend this morning, you can’t at the same time be ruminating on the economic fallout of Covid-19 or feeling anxious about the rising death tolls. The gratitude crowds out the negative thoughts and signals to our body that it can relax now.
Psychologist Dr Robert Emmons, author of Thanks, has proved that a nightly gratitude practice encourages us to drift off to sleep with positive thoughts – and benefit from longer and more refreshing sleep. Research has also shown that people who practice gratitude consistently benefit from an astonishing range of benefits. These include everything from a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure to feeling more joyful, more optimistic and having higher self-worth. They also feel less lonely and isolated – something that’s particularly relevant in this time of physical separation. That’s a whole lot of benefits from something that takes you a couple of minutes before you turn out the light. You can hear more about the amazing benefits of gratitude in this week’s episode of my Wellness Unwrapped podcast, where I chat through how I end the day and how it’s helped me to (mostly) stay calm and positive through this crisis.
And, yes…it’s fairly easy to feel grateful when everything is coming up roses for us. But what about when things are really tough? Like when there’s a global pandemic, an unprecedented economic recession and we’re separated from our loved ones? Even in the face of coronavirus anxiety, we can find calm. The trick is to gradually build our gratitude muscle so that it eventually becomes natural for us to notice and appreciate the good things in our life, no matter what the circumstances we face. And there are always good things to notice.
Have a listen to this episode of Wellness Unwrapped, in which I break down for you how to make this practice “stick” as a habit. You’ll also hear me share real-life examples as I read out entries from my own gratitude journals (you might be surprised by just how mundane they are!).
Are you going to give gratitude a go? Grab yourself a pad and pen and start reaping the benefits of this amazing gift.