With the stressful and often complex holiday season, I find a good approach is to simply focus on the gratitude. A dear friend of over 25 years was just re-diagnosed with cancer. It’s scary. And mysterious. And her attitude has been amazing, staying with her emotions without running away, and focusing on her options and what she really wants to do in the face of western medicine’s “choice” being “Would you like your chemo intravenously or orally?”
While my friend has a difficult and stressful road ahead, I feel joy and admiration in her capacity for awareness that there are gifts of growth and grace, even in a challenge such as this. She has already expressed her gratitude and appreciation for the friends who have stepped up, for the comfort and power of her spiritual path. I am grateful for this friend always, and ever more now as I witness her genuineness, openness, and faith in her unfolding path.
What we know of gratitude and stress relief is that cultivating gratitude is one of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves. Focusing on gratitude is a quick way to break internal stress patterns. When we choose to focus on gratitude, we are doing several things that support stress relief:
1) We are choosing to change our focus to something more positive and life-enhancing, instead of adding fuel to the stress and worry fire;
2) We are focusing our thoughts on something that gives us energy, instead of sapping our strength and motivation;
3) We are short-circuiting the fight-or-flight response with its usual stress breathing patterns and heightened vigilance, tension, and stress hormone responses;
4) With several minutes of focus on what we are grateful for, we move into healthier, more relaxed breathing, which activates the vagus nerve and creates a relaxation response.
5) In naming what and who we are grateful for, we remind ourselves of our loved ones and our meaningful connections. Being connected socially is one of the basics of our human existence; reminding ourselves of those key ties can be a rich part of gratitude.
Practicing gratitude is one of the most heartening ways to disrupt internal cycles of stress and return to conscious calm and happiness.
What are you grateful for this season?