At the beginning of the pandemic, back in the early months of 2020 when the word ‘coronavirus’ still felt unfamiliar as we rolled it around our tongues, and so many of us remained completely in the dark regarding just quite how much our lives were about to be upturned, the need to tap into a self-care toolkit was not as high on most people’s agenda as it has become during subsequent months.
As Covid continued to steamroller the world, however, and global headlines screamed of unprecedented levels of mental health issues, loneliness, increased alcohol use and financial ruin, the idea that we might be wise to introduce strategies that could keep us emotionally resilient, started to gather pace.
In my own little corner of the world, I relied upon running for maintaining a sense of calm, as I always do in moments of personal crisis, and embarked upon a solo half-marathon training programme. This helped me stay mentally and physically strong in lots of ways – and not just because of the action of running, the endorphins that result from intense physical activity, or the headspace I obtain by temporarily escaping the confines of the four walls of my house. It was also the fact that I was working towards achieving a goal, and the mindful state that I move into so easily when running through the countryside; I can’t help being in the moment when I am putting one foot in front of the other, the rhythm of my pace lulling me into a calm, hypnotic state.
And in addition to running, I committed to writing a gratitude journal every day.
"The word ‘gratitude’ is derived from the Latin word ‘gratia’, which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness."
Gratitude means feeling (and the feeling part of the process is essential – it’s not just about writing words down without experiencing the emotion of gratitude) grateful for the things we receive, that which we already have, the moments in life that have brought us this far, the people around us who enrich our time on earth… And when we practice gratitude, we naturally notice more of what we have in abundance, and worry less about what is lacking.
Multiple research studies into the benefits of gratitude reveal it to be pivotal in building a sense of optimism; those who regularly practice gratitude are generally happier and experience greater overall wellbeing, with a decreased incidence rate of depression. Other studies point to the practice leading to people being more attentive in how they express gratitude, reducing stress levels, an improvement in the quality of sleep, and a building of emotional awareness.
In recent times, a few of the things I have felt gratitude for include: the journey my life has taken, which has brought me to here, today; the fact that I never tried heroin, despite many of my friends back in my younger years being regular users – several of these people are now dead, and I suspect that had I gone down that route, so I would be too; my daughters’ sense of humour and company; Soberistas, for its enlightenment, inspiration and optimism; all the people who have helped and supported me during my forty-five years on the planet; my lovely grandparents who passed away many years ago but who I still remember fondly almost every day; the fact that my dad was allowed out of hospital just a couple of weeks before Covid struck, after suffering with pneumonia; the snowdrops that have burst forth from beneath the hard, cold soil and showered my garden with a sense of hope and brightness; music, for lifting me up on a daily basis and moving me in a way that nothing else can; the schools reopening this week, which was so essential for my little girl’s wellbeing and need for social contact with other children…
So what does a gratitude practice look like? I write three things in the morning that I am grateful for, always different from the day before, and ranging from the hugely significant, like my family and having a safe place to live, to the tiny and seemingly trivial, like hearing the owls hooting in my garden. It takes about five to ten minutes of my time per day, and it has had a profound effect on how I perceive the world. Gratitude equates to loving life, to noticing it in all its wonder and beauty, as opposed to allowing it to mindlessly slip by with neither acknowledgment or appreciation.
If you take up just one new habit to help you stay positive and emotionally well, I would advise that you make that one thing gratitude.