Can Practicing Gratitude Ease Depression during the Holiday Season?

For many, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas trigger feelings of loneliness, anxiety and melancholy, leading to depression.

Current research, however, is showing that practicing gratitude may help.

Gratitude, as defined by The Cambridge Dictionary, is “a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something that the person has done to help you. It’s the feeling or quality of being grateful.”

According to Alex Kolb, PhD in The Upward Spiral, “…there’s a gratitude circuit in your brain, badly in need of a workout. Strengthening that circuit brings the power to elevate your physical and mental health, boost happiness, improve sleep, and help you feel more connected to other people.”

Several reports like this one, claim everything from less depression to improved relationships to healthier heart function in those participants that regularly practiced gratitude and thankfulness. Being thankful on purpose shifts the brain’s thinking and reminds you of what you have, rather than what you do not. Practicing gratitude helps a person to recognize happiness outside of themselves and offers a greater, more balanced perspective on the circumstances surrounding them.

Regularly practicing thanksgiving, such as keeping a gratitude journal or mindfully thanking others for what they have done for us, releases dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, our ‘feel good hormones’. This has a profound effect on the way we perceive life around us and changes our thought patterns from negative to positive ones. This ultimately boosts our overall sense of well-being and happiness, thus helping to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. While clinical depression may not be cured by these techniques, the evidence of exercising our brain’s gratitude muscle overwhelmingly suggests that it can only help the condition.

In one study, which examined the impact of a new emotional self-help program on stress, emotions, heart rate and salivary DHEA and cortisol levels, “individuals in the experimental group were assessed before and four weeks after receiving training in the self-management techniques. The experimental group experienced significant increases in the positive affect scales of Caring and Vigor and significant decreases in the negative affect scales of Guilt, Hostility, Burnout, Anxiety and Stress Effects, while no significant changes were seen in the comparison group.”

This means that those participants who practiced these gratitude techniques experienced greater care for themselves and others, experienced more energy and had an overall decrease of stress hormones and negative emotions.

Science is showing that gratitude works.

*Clinically diagnosed depression requires treatment. This article serves only to provide a tool in addition to prescribed treatments and does not claim to heal depression.

Ready to get grateful? Here’s 5 ways to begin:

  • Keep a gratitude journal in which you write down 3 things every day that you are thankful for.
  • Send out thank you cards showing your appreciation for things people have done for you a couple times a week.
  • Meditate or pray. Spend 15 minutes each day meditating and/or praying about all you are grateful for.
  • Share your gratitude and spend time with someone your care for. Visit someone once a week and share your thankfulness with them.
  • Start a Thanksgiving Tree to keep throughout the holiday season, and include any loved ones living with you.

So if this season is triggering depression, consider practicing thankfulness.