6 Ways to Combat Anxiety and Stress
Living UnAfraid means getting a handle on the anxiety that haunts many of us. As part of the series on Living UnAfraid, yesterday after our service, we asked therapist, counselor and expert on anxiety, Matthew Swartz to come and talk to us. Matthew ended the talk with 6 steps, 6 things that we can do to reduce anxiety and stress in our lives. I will blog about one of these each day and we begin with Gratitude. When you wake up (or anytime during the day) list 5 things for which you are grateful . I love the idea of turning our first thoughts in the morning to God, so let’s make this gratitude list a prayer. “God, today I and thankful for….” So how does gratitude reduce anxiety and stress? We’ll get to that but first, let’s pause here for a little “word nerd”. (You know how I love this stuff) The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. I love the connection between grace and gratefulness. Grace (as defined by the United Methodist Church) is the “divine love that surrounds all humanity.” In one sense gratitude is a natural response to grace. We respond to God’s unconditional love that meets us as we are and where we are. We respond by acknowledging the goodness in our lives. And through that process we recognize and acknowledge the source of our goodness. Gratitude connects us to God.
There are some practical and psychological benefits to being grateful. The Harvard Medical Journal has published several studies done by psychologists on the effects of gratitude. In study after study controlled groups were asked to record things for which they are grateful or in one study deliver a letters of gratitude. The studies varied but the results were all the same. In every case at the end of the study, people were more optimistic not only about their own lives but about the people around them, happier in general, experienced less stress and so on. I was fascinated by one study from Wharton School. (the following is an excerpt from Harvard Publishing – Harvard Medical School “Giving Thanks Makes You Happier.)
“Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.”
Being grateful can make us happier, calmer and more productive. Gratitude reminds us of the goodness all around us and connects us to the source of goodness, God.
There is one more benefit that I find particularly helpful. Taking our minds into a gratitude mode, blocks out negative thoughts which lead to negative emotions. I may wake up and be reminded of something that causes me stress or anxiety. I can jump down that rabbit hole, or I can turn to a different path. Today, I am going to set the negative thoughts aside and list the things for which I am grateful.
At this very moment, I am grateful to be able to write and blog and connect with so many people. Truly, I am grateful for a path that leads me every day to some new thought or idea.
Gratitude, Grace and Peace