Sonya Gankina: How We Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness
Accept yourself as you are — you’ve come so far, you’ve already accomplished a lot of great things, you are doing your best to survive. Once you express gratitude and acceptance for the gifts you’ve already been blessed with, any higher power you believe in — or even yourself — will be more likely to grant you even more!
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonya Gankina.
Sonya Gankina is a recent graduate from a Bachelor of Commerce program at the Telfer School of Management in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and has already began her successful career as a consultant in digital marketing. Armed with three years of agency experience earned while completing her studies, she is now working as a freelancer helping local businesses establish their online presence. She’s been mentioned in numerous respectable publications and also writes articles for an arts and culture blog in Ottawa. An immigrant from Russia, Sonya is no stranger to starting over and loves helping business owners from different backgrounds who may be going through the same thing.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
Absolutely! In high school, I completed an experiential learning program called Beyond Borders where I learned that I loved business. My mom, Yulia Balobanova, is a professional artist, so I am a creative person too and I found the perfect solution to combine business and art with a marketing degree. I’ve stuck with it and I now know I made the right choice for myself. I love coming up with creative ideas, strategizing, and placing myself in different audience’s shoes to see how the information is coming across.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
This story is about interconnectedness and why we need to pay attention to things that are happening around us. Last December was my last time working in a full-time position for someone else. After that job ended and I was left with a choice to search for more jobs or to jump off in the deep end and start working for myself, I was having frequent calls with other marketing professionals in Ottawa to establish relationships.
My professor and mentor recommended a fellow Telfer alumnus to connect with, Andres Tovar, so we had a video chat. Andres introduced me to the Press Nexus Slack group, where I contributed to an article. I got mentioned in a Student to CEO piece, posted my quote on LinkedIn, and a Marketing Director reached out to me with a job opportunity because she saw my post and agreed with what I had to say. I didn’t end up getting the job but became her personal virtual assistant instead and she became my best client! All from a video chat with a colleague in the same field who shared a resource.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Less of a life lesson quote and more of a motto, something that drives me forward is a teaching from James Clear, the best-selling author of Atomic Habits: “Be 1% better every day.” Based on the concept of winner-takes-all, he teaches that just being a little bit better every day can lead to outsized rewards — companies compete for the same client and the chosen company gets 100% of the profits. Olympic swimmers compete for the same medal and the winner overtakes the competition by mere seconds.
I keep this principle in mind and improve a little bit consistently instead of irregular huge jumps which don’t lead to the same steady results.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
A book that had a significant impact on me is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. As a freelancer, I am always publishing content to promote myself, telling the stories of my customers, and establishing myself as an expert.
Sometimes, resistance, a concept explained in the book, overcomes me. I have thoughts like “Would people even read this? Does this matter?” and other self-doubt explorations so familiar to those of us with impostor syndrome. This book changed that. The crux of it is that we need to share our divine art with the world because it’s our soul’s way of expressing itself and we are robbing the world — and ourselves — of creative gifts by being too scared to share. It’s a great read for any creative person out there. Because of it, I became more confident and ruthless in sharing my truth.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Currently, I’m working with an entrepreneur developing a healthy snack for women to enjoy on their periods to help them manage undue pain and balance out their hormones. Too many women deal with period pain when they shouldn’t have to, and we are seeking to change that holistically by optimizing the body’s own immune system. Women’s health is very important to me and I am excited to be working on this project from the early stages.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Having just one person who believes in you can make all the difference. I’m grateful for my family, my partner, my close friends for being supportive but the one person who continuously challenges my mindset and pushes me to strive further is my professor from university, Jonathan Simon. We have regular calls to catch up and he always encourages me to go bold and bigger, suggests resources to change my self-doubt, and always provides reassurance and encouragement that I am doing the right thing. After every call, I feel energized and ready to take on the world. I’m immensely grateful and I hope every one of us can find a supporter and a mentor like that.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Gratitude is appreciating what you have, accepting yourself as you are, and extending the positive energy to your support circle too.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
So many people are always focused on the next big thing and what they are going to accomplish after this is done and what they could change about themselves. People are not living in the present moment but in the future. This effectively removes the joy out of the daily little things and does not allow gratitude for the here and now.
People are often using future as a form of escapism to avoid dealing with complicated emotions of the now whereas being in the moment and dealing with tough things is exactly what we need to do.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
A study from the University of Kentucky confirms that people who exercise gratitude regularly enjoy multiple benefits in life, including enhanced empathy towards others and reduced aggression. Even when someone doesn’t behave kindly towards a grateful person, they respond in a kinder manner than a person who does not practice gratitude.
We also learn to enjoy the present moment whether it’s a great cup of coffee or a beautiful song. We slow down, embrace the process and learn to enjoy that instead of always rushing to get to the finish line.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
Studies have confirmed that gratitude reduces symptoms of depression and increases our happiness levels. In recent years, depression and suicide rates have unfortunately skyrocketed. Gratitude is often overlooked as one of the solutions. Our minds tend to focus on the same things — if we are thinking of blue trees, we will only think of blue trees. If we think of negative things, our brains will kindly suggest more negative things (remember that incident from the third grade you still think about?!). However, this works the other way too!
When we tune into our positive energy, our minds will continue to think of opportunities and positivity. When one starts to practice gratitude, it’s often difficult to only mention one thing. You’re grateful for your home, but also food on the table and even water access. That’s already three things!
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
Five ways to practice gratitude are daily journaling, taking a mental note of your day when you’re going to sleep, noticing the present moment, telling people you’re grateful for them, and accepting yourself as you are.
- In the morning, write out at least three things you are grateful for: your hot tea, a beautiful candle, your dog.
- At night, think about what happened during the day and find things to be grateful for: a new client, a successful call, a beautiful walk, a delicious meal. Note that these things are not tied to your professional achievements. You are more than your job!
- Every day when you are doing things, notice the present moment — how does your food taste? What sounds are you hearing? What is the texture of your clothes?
- When someone does something nice for you, thank them verbally or virtually. We always think people just know how we feel but actually hearing it can be incredibly transformational. Studies have shown that when a person is presented with a gratitude letter, the positive effects linger for many months!
- Accept yourself as you are — you’ve come so far, you’ve already accomplished a lot of great things, you are doing your best to survive. Once you express gratitude and acceptance for the gifts you’ve already been blessed with, any higher power you believe in — or even yourself — will be more likely to grant you even more!
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
It’s totally normal to feel sensitive, emotional, and fragile. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to feel the emotions — we are humans after all, and emotions are normal. Don’t shame yourself or try to “move on” even if people are pushing you to. If we don’t experience our emotions, they will fester in our body and express themselves as diseases or other negative physical effects. So, let it happen. Make a drawing, watch a movie, eat ice cream. Allow yourself time.
The key is to not let this process go on for too long. There’s only so long we can feel pity for ourselves. Of course, this doesn’t apply to grief or mourning. But the actions we take from our emotional reactions matter. There comes a point where you will have to gather your strength, see that it doesn’t make sense to continue spending valuable energy on feeling sad and try to change your trajectory to actions you can take, even if it’s just getting out of bed. Humans thrive on solving problems and completing tasks and creating things. Use that.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
The Science of Wellbeing with Dr. Laurie Santos is a wonderful free psychology course on Coursera fully rooted in studies done by Yale, Harvard, and more. Books by Mark Manson such as The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** and Everything is F***ed: A Book about Hope are great for changing your mindset.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
It would be transforming people’s health. We truly don’t understand how crucial it is to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, eat whole foods, spend time outside, and take proper supplements. Many people’s hormones are absolutely out of whack. Sometimes setting the hormones straight can lower depression and anxiety symptoms in people. Magnesium and B12 deficiencies are often culprits.
Imagine, we help people live healthier lives, get people off meds they don’t need to be on (with horrible side effects), and boost immune systems. The movement is called biohacking sometimes, but the point is the same across the board — get closer to nature and honour your body and biology.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
My website is sonyagankina.ca and my writings can also be found here: https://apt613.ca/author/sgankina/. Thank you!
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!