RYH Episode 18: The Health Benefits of Gratitude

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend and also my favourite time of year in the practice. In addition to the amazing weather and abundance of produce from local farmer’s markets, we have also set up our gratitude wall – an annual tradition in my practice. Today’s podcast is all about gratitude, so listen in and find out how making gratitude a daily practice will actually do great things for your health.

For more on the health benefits of gratitude, check out this blog post.

Gratitude Is Good For Your Health

Practicing Gratitude is Good For Your Health!

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

Marcus Aurelius

The simple act of gratitude can have powerful effects on your emotional well-being and consequently on your physical body as well.  Negative emotions create muscle tension, weaken our immune system, and even alter our hormone patterns (men too!).  Taking a minute to immerse yourself in simple gratitude for the many blessings in your life is scientifically proven to improve your health.

Practicing Gratitude as a Community

Every October we do something powerful and positive in the practice. We invite people to take a moment to share something they are grateful for on a piece of paper and post it on the wall in the reception room.

Everyday  as we discussed the importance of living with a grateful heart, encouraged people to take a moment to share what they were grateful for, we were inspired by the responses we received.

More than just the act of writing the gratitude note, others read all the notes on the wall, had a laugh, shared a sentiment, and left with a smile on their face.

We watched people reflect, and often converse with others in the practice. We witnessed people coming together, interacting with each other, and watched a community unfold. We’ve already started the wall again this year, but here’s why gratitude is so important:

A man becomes what he thinks about all day long.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

What you dwell upon expands. If you focus on what you don’t have, that’s all you will see. Focusing your thoughts on victories instead of defeats will help you develop an attitude of gratitude and a greater sense of self-worth.

The Science Behind Gratitude And What It Can Do For Your Health

Research shows the feelings associated with gratitude, appreciation, love and caring enhance health. When you find one thing, however small, to be thankful for and hold that feeling for as little as 15-20 seconds, many subtle and beneficial physiological changes take place inside you:

  • Levels of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline decrease, supporting many organ systems and boosting your immune system
  • Coronary arteries relax, increasing the blood supply to your heart. Heart rhythms become more harmonious, affecting other organs and lifting your mood
  • Breathing becomes deeper, increasing the oxygen level of your tissues

People who regularly practice gratitude report higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy when compared to those who do not.

Practicing Gratitude Individually

Make gratitude part of your life by adopting more thankful thoughts or making the time to write them down. A powerful exercise is the use of gratitude journal to reflect on day-to-day success, or simply take a few minutes to think of 5 things you are grateful for in your life.

You will be pleasantly surprised how it will shift your mental state and the benefits to your health!

Define Your Year!

ID-100211313What’s Your Word?

I love this concept and started to apply it a few years ago. Think about your aspirations for 2014. What do you want for the year ahead? Is there an overriding theme that comes to mind for you? Can you sum up your intentions in a single word? I bet you can.

A great word can set the tone for your actions and keep you focused.  A word can also serve as a reminder of what’s important when everyday  ‘life stuff’ frustrates us. For example, when my sons were young and I wasn’t in practice, my word was “Nurture“.  It reminded me of my focus on raising my sons and looking after myself.  It allowed me to accept that my career aspirations would be fulfilled at a later date, and that the little boys in my kitchen were simply more important for the time being. In other years the words “Grow“, “Balance” and “Focus” have worked well for me.

A great word  sets your intention and will help manifest the people, places,  opportunities (and challenges!) to help you achieve your goals.  A good friend recently shared her story of using theme words during the past few years. “Abundance” was her focus at one time and she grew her business substantially. “Love” was her focus another year, and she met the man she married.  Metaphysics aside, what you focus on tends to happen!  The simple act of awareness can powerfully  keep you oriented towards actions that support your goals, and make you more likely to attract success.

Your ‘word’ might come to mind easily.  You may already have one that has been running through your thoughts repetitively, especially if you have set resolutions or goals for yourself. If not, carve out some time in your week to think about it. Sit quietly and reflect.   Journal if it helps you sort out your thoughts, or, on a blank sheet of paper simply write down words that depict your hopes and dreams for the year ahead. Something will pop out at you, or you may notice a pattern in the words you write down. Don’t over-think it!

Friends, colleagues, and people in my practice have shared their words with me for added support and accountability. Here’s some of their theme words to get you started:  Relate, Believe, Focus, Simplify, Build, Mindful, Refresh, Rejuvenate

Once you have your ‘word’ write it down where you can see it regularly. Use it as a password so you have to consciously think about it many times a day. Place post-it notes all over your home if you need to. Get creative and do what works for you – and share your ideas!

One word is easy to remember. Pick one for yourself and let it shape the months to come.

Balanced?

Recently I was sitting on the patio of my local café, reading, planning my day. When it was time to get started on the responsibilities I had, I joked with an acquaintance how reluctant I was to get to working, that it was so lovely sitting on the patio! His comment was brilliant:

“Give yourself a break. Enjoy the day. Whatever you have to do will all work out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out yet – it’s not the end!”

I encourage you to balance time in your life for movement, healthy eating, nurturing relationships, getting enough rest, and playing.  You need all of these things in your life because you are a whole person, and because being healthy requires attention to all these areas.

We all have work responsibilities, family obligations and personal objectives. The key to healthy living is in balancing all of them every week, sometimes every day, and giving ourselves permission to do so.

Are the different facets of your life balanced? 

Sure, there are times when some of our responsibilities dominate, when we must focus specifically on doing the best we can to manage everything.

Some days, weeks, months are more balanced than others. I think it’s important to look at the larger picture of our lives when reflecting on this topic.  When raising young children, juggling work or changes in career, helping aging parents, moving or renovating a property, life can become a little overwhelming, and sometimes very unbalanced. I can say this from personal experience, and from working with people for so many years.

Even during these stressful times we can always become aware, and try to make small changes if that’s all we can make. Do the best you can – a little will always be better than none at all.

If things are seem to be a little unbalanced in your life ask yourself…

Is it a temporary situation given the stage of life you are in, or a constant challenge?

What can you do differently? 

Do you need to shift your priorities? 

How can you make a change, and what do you need to get started?

Where can you create more time in your life to support these other wishes you have?

Change can only happen if you choose to do so. Think about these questions, then act!

Being “Whole”

“Be really whole and all things will come to you.” ~ Lao Tzu

Wholeness? How do we interpret that? Be who you are, and love every part of yourself. Be aware of your surroundings and appreciate the simple things. Express yourself. Balance all parts of your life – work, play, relationships, personal time, exercise, reflection – so that you can be the fullest YOU possible.

Humans are complex beings made up of so much more than just tissues and cells, muscles, bones and skin.  Your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the world, and yourself, contribute to how your body functions.  We can think ourselves sick and think ourselves well.   Choose to believe you are living and functioning well.  For some of you that will be an easy task, for others it will take more effort, but you can only heal if you are willing to do so.

We know that the human body works better as a whole, and that every cell in your body depends on the health and function of the others to operate properly. The body is self-healing and self-regulating and depends on some coordination for it all to happen – that’s where your brain comes in!  Chiropractic adjustments remove interference from your spinal cord to allow  your brain to communicate with your body, so you can function as a whole being.