Science News: How Gratitude Physically Rewires Your Brain

Don’t forget to say thank you. Throughout our childhood years, most of us had been prompted with this statement—or variation of it. Many have assumed saying Thank you was simply a polite, socially-customary interaction. But research is revealing much more. Showing thankfulness has been proven to affect your entire being. Actually, this basic virtue holds the power to physically rewire the brain.

Gratitude helps the individual focus on the positive, training their mind to concentrate on the good areas of their life. Living in a state of constant thanksgiving impacts the brain and consequently, the emotions. A study, published in 2016, required some participants to write notes of gratitude and the rest to write expressive thoughts. After twelve weeks, those in the gratitude condition reported significantly better mental health than those in the expressive condition. 

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Having a thankful heart helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, and even have a stronger resiliency during a trauma.

Adopting the habit of showing gratitude has a long-lasting, positive effect on the brain. Even therapists are beginning to implement gratitude intervention to help those with depression and anxiety. One study, conducted at Ohio State University, revealed those who incorporate gratitude into their every day lives tend to have higher levels of self-esteem and are less depressed.

Gratitude also improves one’s patience levels. A study, conducted by researchers at Northeastern University, revealed that those who felt grateful for little, everyday things were more patient and better able to make sensible decisions, compared to those who weren’t gracious on a continual basis. Thankfulness also enhances empathy and decreases aggression. Furthermore, showing gratitude activates the brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the “feel good” chemical released by neurons, and is often considered the “reward” neurotransmitter. So basically, when you do good to others, you are rewarded.

Here are some ways to cultivate a life of gratitude:

  • Write thank-you notes.  Not only does this simple act give you an opportunity to express your thoughts of gratitude, but it has also been known to strengthen relationships. Try to make it a habit to send one note a month, and don’t forget to write one to yourself.
  • Keep a thankfulness journal. Take time to jot down your blessings. This helps you focus on all the good in your life, preventing you from dwelling on what you lack.
  • Pray and meditate. Those who are religious can use prayer time to express their gratitude. Also, meditation is an effective technique to not only reduce stress but to absorb positive energy from embracing peaceful moments.

With the holidays approaching, it’s important to incorporate gratitude to keep your mind free from depression and anxiety. By practicing thanksgiving, you can enjoy a stress-free, peace-filled season.

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Distress or Chronic Stress

Distress or chronic stress is uncontrollable, prolonged, or overwhelming stress. Once stress becomes distress, the body manages to survive though not always to thrive. For example, when faced with periods of chronic stress, the body’s immune system function is lowered, and the digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems no longer function the way they should. In a state of distress, the cells of the immune system (and other body systems) are unable to respond normally and produce levels of inflammation which increase the risk of further health issues.

Homeostasis

Homeostasis refers to your body’s ability to regulate itself and maintain a comparatively stable internal environment despite external and internal conditions and events.

Your body is designed to be in a state of homeostasis, where all the systems within are functioning optimally.

Stressor

Stressor is anything that is perceived by the body as challenging, threatening or demanding.

Health Story

In the context of My Wellbeing Compass, your “Health Story” represents the combination of your dis-eases, conditions, symptoms and the history that binds them together. It is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. Unearthing and resolving the root causes at the core of your Health Story is the only way to truly rewrite this Story.

Natural Self-repair Mechanisms

The body is made up of intelligent, living cells that are dynamically connected. They communicate and just know what to do and when to do it in any given situation. They grow, replicate, repair, and age. Every 90 days, the body has a new bloodstream; every year, it manufactures billions of new cells; colon cells refresh every 4 days; the skin is entirely regenerated every 2-3 weeks; white blood cells regenerate in about 1 year; the liver renews itself at least once every 2 years; and the skeleton replaces its cells entirely every 10 years.

You are an incredibly complex, interactive, and dynamic living organism that is well-equipped with self-repair mechanisms that can fight infections, eliminate toxins, fix damaged DNA, destroy cancer cells, and even slow down aging.

This natural self-healing ability (also referred to as cellular intelligence or body’s innate intelligence) explains spontaneous remissions from seemingly “incurable” diseases.

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