So, your life is full of stress. Your days may be filled with the usual frustrations at work, including dealing with difficult people or urgent deadlines. Job security, advancement, commuting and other employment issues may bring more stress. Then work spills into your down time so you have less chance to reconnect with friends and family or to simply relax. Instead, you might unwind in front of a digital screen. Time passes so quickly that getting things done is challenging, if not practically impossible. Night turns into day, and you have to do it all over again. Without getting much of a break, your stress can really get you down. Stress can accumulate into a deeper state of despair or even depression. So how can you break away from your negative emotions to feel better amidst all the stress? You must learn to fight these negative feelings and find relief from your burdensome stress.
Have you ever heard the saying “Be thankful for what you’ve got?” Well, there is actual brain science to support the notion that we can use gratitude to lift our sour spirits. How can being thankful help anyone feel better? What if you feel there aren’t many things in your life that you appreciate? These are reasonable questions. According to Alex Korb in The Upward Spiral, “feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine.” Dopamine is commonly known as a neurotransmitter (think brain chemical) that is responsible for experiencing pleasure.
The search for your source of gratitude is not actually about how many cool things you own, or the size of your friend list. Instead, neurologists have recently found that it is the actual mental SEARCH is what initiates an upward spiral that elevates your mood. Daily journaling of what makes you feel thankful puts you in a routine that could create that upward spiral into a better mood state.
When you are spending time in the pursuit of what makes you grateful or even appreciative, you are spending time in a positive state. Whether you recall the helpfulness of someone special, or reflect on an opportunity you’ve had, or remember the love that touched you once, you’re taking a positive mental journey away from your troubles.
Naturally, when you spend more time in positive states, you will spend less time in negative states. That is why spending time focusing on what you appreciate benefits you in multiple ways. Other positive mental tasks include remembering your past accomplishments, thinking ahead to good things in your future, or things you enjoy in life. Getting plenty of restful sleep always improves the way you feel.
In a similar endeavor, staying busy keeps your mind more engaged with your activities. Being active means you exist more in the present moments which frees you to enjoy more positive thoughts. The use of your physical energy also reduces stress and keeps you energized to take on life’s challenges. Exercising – especially outdoors – brings another avenue of improved mind and body.
When stress gets you down, remember that there are things that you can do to change your mood. You can start by recalling things that make you feel grateful. Having gratitude as a regular part of your day can boost your levels of dopamine, which promotes the feelings of pleasure, rather than distress, sadness or depression. You can boost your mood even further by keeping busy, noticing things that make you feel good or proud, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular physical exercise. Use gratitude as your guide to good feelings!