By Chris Croll
During this pandemic, we are all resorting to extraordinary measures to protect ourselves from getting sick. But the stress of worrying about getting sick may be enough to make us sick! When the body is managing stress for long periods of time, energy is diverted away from other systems, including those that fight off viruses.
To help manage stress, researchers say it’s important to focus our attention on the things in our lives for which we are grateful. Thankful thoughts are calming thoughts which can push worrying thoughts out of focus. Also, expressing gratitude can make us feel more in control during a time when we may not have much of an ability to influence outcomes.
Stress hormones like cortisol are shown to be much lower in people who express gratitude, so it makes sense that being grateful helps maintain better physical health. But research shows that expressing thanks can also help fortify mental health. Being thankful is considered such a powerful protective factor that gratitude work is part of many suicide prevention and addiction recovery programs.
This pandemic offers myriad opportunities for us to express thanks—for what’s good in our lives and also for the work others are doing. Start with one thing for which you are grateful. If you can’t think of anything right away, say out loud to yourself or to a loved one, “I’m fortunate to be alive.” From there, you can start listing other things for which you are grateful.
Even for those of us dealing with major life crises right now—a spouse losing their job, living in physical pain, watching a close family member die, worrying about the mental health of a child—there is still gratitude to be found. I cite those specific examples because I am personally dealing with all of those issues right now. Managing these micro traumas against the backdrop of a global pandemic is enough to wipe out my adrenal system completely. I’ve started reciting mantras such as, “I’m grateful for my friends” and “I am so thankful to have a backyard full of trees.” These expressions of gratitude help me to refocus my thoughts from negative to positive.
For those of you who prefer to express thanks in tangible ways, consider writing a letter, card, email or social media post to someone who is working on the front lines of the pandemic; health care workers, grocery store clerks, package delivery personnel, assisted living facility staff and others. Thank them for their service and commitment to their jobs. You can even send a note to the service providers you miss the most; teachers, hair stylists, bartenders, restaurant managers, etc. Being on the receiving end of gratitude has its own health benefits.
Taking time each day to feel grateful can help boost your immune system and fortify your mental health. What you focus energy on expands so as you practice gratitude, you will find more things in life for which to be thankful. On that note, let me close by saying how thankful I am for you, the reader, and for the team at Loudoun Now who works hard to assemble this newspaper for us each week. Stay healthy, Loudoun!
[Chris Croll is a writer, community activist and former member of the Loudoun County School Board (Catoctin District). She lives in Leesburg with her husband and two children.]