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How gratitude writing practices help to manage anxiety

Gratitude is a powerful practice, especially when it’s practised regularly. Research is continuing to uncover the benefits of gratitude and the various mental and physical benefits it has on us. Let’s look at a few of those to give you an idea of what you can expect if you start to focus on experiencing gratitude daily. 


The benefits of a writing gratitude practice with anxiety


Practicing gratitude helps your overall mental and physical health because you instantly have a better outlook on life. Don’t be surprised to walk away from your latest gratitude practice, whatever it is, with a big smile on your face. Of course, the benefits don’t stop at increased happiness. Experiencing more gratitude has been linked to increased movement, a better self-image, less anxiety and even a reduction of depression. 


Does this sound too good to be true? Scientists have found that intentional gratitude mediations result in increased levels of dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters and are known as the ‘happiness hormones.’ Both are known to regulate mood and emotion however they also have their own biological roles in addition to this. Dopamine is involved in movement, coordination and a person’s sense of pleasure and reward. Serotonin is also involved in digestion and metabolism. 


3 Ways to express gratitude

1. Expressing gratitude directly

There are many ways you can express gratitude to other people beyond a simple ‘thank you’. It can be done face to face, via text or via video chat. As. long as it is sincere, you will enjoy the benefits of expressing gratitude, no matter the method you choose. 


2. Gratitude journaling

Gratitude journaling is a specific type of journaling where you focus on being grateful. It is often used to write down gratitude lists, like listing ‘3 things I am grateful for today’, but it is also used with specific gratitude prompts or to write down long paragraphs on gratitude stream of thoughts.


3. Gratitude letter

Writing a gratitude letter to someone and not posting is another way you can connect with gratitude and enjoy it’s benefits. As you are not sending the letter, you are offered the opportunity to be vulnerable without fear of over-sharing or feeling embarrassed. The main benefit of this exercise is realised by the process of writing your gratitude letter. 


You could benefit more from writing a gratitude letter of you were willing and able to hand deliver the letter and read it out aloud to the recipient. For some, this may be too risky, and a step too far.


How to maximise your gratitude writing benefits

Generally, the longer the gratitude writing the more beneficial the activity. So whether you write in a gratitude journal or you write gratitude letters with specific people in mind, you will still benefit from each practice. 


1. Handwritten vs Typed

To maximise your benefits with your gratitude writing practice it is recommended that you hand write your work with a pen and paper, as it deepens your experience and has more benefits compared to typing it out. If you choose to type your letter, you will still experience the benefits of this exercise however its impact will be lesser. 


2. Written vs Perfect prose

The benefit of a written gratitude practice is to cognitively engage with the process the activity with intention, so whether what you’re writing is the next Ulysess or a jumbled assortment of thoughts, on the face of it, it doesn’t really matter. However, if you are critically reviewing what you have written and you’re focusing more on the grammar and punctuation – the thrust of your gratitude message could get lost and the positive impacts lessened for you. 


3. Quick vs Long

“Anything worth doing, is worth doing properly’ is a belief I hold. It doesn’t mean doing the task perfectly. To me it means giving the task the best opportunity of success, and in the case of gratitude, the longer the block of time you set aside for it, the more you will realise the benefits of the practice. 


In reality, you can do a practice in 10 minutes or less, however if you gave yourself 20 minutes for that same practice, your engagement would likely be deeper, more insightful and lead to longer lasting benefits. 


I always recommend 20 minutes to clients for a gratitude practice so that they can allow time for the outside world to disappear into the background and give the task their full attention. Of course, if they only have 10 minutes then I’d prefer they used the 10 minutes rather than not at all. 


4. Regular vs Occasional

With any activity, to realise the benefits, you need to practice regularly and often. The same is true for a written gratitude practice. Practicing regularly will help you to build your ‘gratitude muscle’, making your writing more insightful and layered. 


It is often easier to maintain a writing gratitude practice when you couple it with something you already do regularly e.g., morning walk or evening exercise. 


How a gratitude practice alleviates anxiety

Anxiety is characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”


Gratitude has been proven to help alleviate anxiety in a number of ways:


  1. A regular gratitude practice promotes less critical, less punishing and a more compassionate relationship with yourself. People who experience gratefulness are more prone to show kindness, comprehension, support and compassion when they experience setbacks and frustrations rather than increased anxiety alone.     
  2. In the face of setbacks, a regular gratitude practice can soften negative self-talk and interrupt the repetitive negative thinking (RNT) pattern linked to increasingly higher levels of anxiety.     
  3. Due to the physical changes that occur when practicing gratitude, gratitude is particularly important for heart health. With the lower blood pressure and reduced stress, your heart is experiencing less strain than if you didn’t practice gratitude regularly. 



While gratitude writing practices are not a fix all solution for anxiety, they do go some way to alleviating it. 


A gratitude writing practice does not replace therapy for anxiety, it merely complements it. In my experience working with clients who experience high anxiety, the gratitude writing practice supports the therapeutic work and in most cases, there are bi-directional benefits. In my practice working with clients, I have found that the clients who have a regular writing gratitude practice also have lesser flare ups of their anxiety and are more able to manage their anxiety in the face of the unknown. 


If you would like to better manage your anxiety, book in a confidential call with me and we can discuss strategies available to you whether you choose to work with me or not. 


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