On those days where you’re really feeling anxious or flat, it can be hard to get out of that hole – especially when you just can’t take a break from parenting to do something nice for yourself.
Well, I have a practice to help you feel better on those days - but which will also help you build the skill of feeing good on a daily basis. It’s called gratitude practice.
Now before you think “this is just hippy #$%”, let me say that it’s proven by science to actually work!
Researchers have found that when people feel grateful for something, this lights up the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions, bonding with others, feeling pleasure and feeling empathy.
And they also found that people who practice gratitude regularly have:
- better sleep
- better romantic relationships,
- are less likely to get sick,
- more likely to exercise, and
- are happier and less depressed.
Practicing gratitude regularly is the key. You need to make it a habit by practicing it often. This is a great practice for parents because you can slot in a few minutes each day – it doesn’t have to take long.
Regular practice means that when you hit a bad day you’ll be able to turn on your gratitude skills and help yourself cope much better. And when you have a good day you’ll be able to savour and enjoy it more.
Have you noticed that your brain gets more captivated by problems than good things? When you’re worrying about your kid’s health or you’ve had a fight with your partner, does your brain just keep going back to that problem OVER AND OVER AGAIN?!
Our brains have evolved from our cave-dwelling ancestors to look out for problems (in case it’s a wild animal that will attack us!), so we have to make an effort to create a habit of noticing what is positive. Gratitude is a great way to do this, without trying to “fake it” – because there really are many things all of us can be grateful for!
So I have some great strategies for how you can practice gratitude starting right now:
1. Meditate with a guided gratitude meditation – here is a guided meditation I have made for you, so sit down, close your eyes and try this!
2. Once per day take a few minutes to focus on what you are grateful for right now. To help you do this, I’m running a Gratitude Week in the Facebook Group next week – starting this Sunday I’ll post a simple gratitude practice for parents each day in my Facebook Group. If you like writing, I recommend you journal what you’re grateful for each day too.
3. Savour the pleasant moments in your day – each day, try to notice the simple, pleasant experiences and spend a minute focusing on the joy and good fortune of the experience. It could be a great cup of coffee, or the laughter of your child, or a phone call from a good friend. Anything really! But the more specific it is, the better – if you try to be thankful for big things like your health or family, it can be harder to turn it into a simple habit.
4. Be aware of loss and death as a way to remind you to cherish what you’ve got. Last week an old work friend of mine passed away at a young age – this sad experience reminded me how important it is to cherish my partner and daughter, family and friends. And anyone who has had their home burn down will tell you how grateful they are for their belongings. Loss is a great opportunity to focus on what we DO have and how lucky we are to have it.
5. Don’t forget to notice the silver linings – even a difficult experience or a tragedy can have an up-side, so try to pick up on these silver linings when you have a challenge. That’s not to say we should forget the grief or disappointment and just “bright-side” everything. It’s just that we have a choice: we can either notice only the loss or problem and that’s all. Or we can also notice that good things (like learning, a new beginning or growth) do come from all our difficult times.
I learned from sleep deprivation that I am stronger than I thought, and that being tired is not the end of my world! I came out the other end stronger.
So I hope you will try some gratitude meditation and that it helps you feel happier and less stressed.
And now it's my turn to be grateful - to you! I'm so grateful that you're here and on this journey with me!