It’s Thanksgiving week, let’s breathe our way through a gratitude workout. A study of the effects of the pandemic showed that 90% of us have been emotionally affected by it. That’s really not surprising. But for 25% of us, this has resulted in depression. While a temporary state of depression is a natural response to change, it’s possible some will experience long-term or clinical depression as time goes on.
Many Americans are facing trauma and hardship they’ve never seen before – job loss, hunger, severe illness, loss of family, lack of physical contact, unsafe working conditions, and more. This takes a toll even on the strongest and healthiest of us. Yet some will rise to the occasion, feel the effects, find a way to cope, and thrive in the future. Others will become stuck. Genetics, personality, support, and choices all play a role in how we fare.
Even when outside support is lacking, we can become our own support system by building the emotional resilience that will facilitate processing through difficulty and coming out the other side better than before. This can be accomplished through deliberate practices. One tool to build an emotional toolkit is a gratitude practice. I’ve written about this before because it’s always a wonderfully useful tool, but it seems especially important right now.
So much of our cultural conversation is focused on what we don’t have, can’t do, can’t buy, can’t see, can’t experience that we’re at risk of losing sight of the good that surrounds us. A gratitude workout may be just the shift in focus that revitalizes us when we’re dining alone this week.
I’ve used many techniques for practicing gratitude. I started with a series of journals. In those books, I made a list every day of 10 things for which I was grateful. On days when most everything had gone wrong, I had to sit for a very long time to think of that first item. But I’m sure you’ll find as I did that once you think of one thing, you’ll think of more because your focus has finally shifted.
One year, I used a series of neon colored post-its that I collected in a brightly colored plastic box with a pull-out drawer. At the end of each month, I’d go back and read all of the notes. It was a great way to gain perspective on the events of the month. If I gleaned an insight that seemed particularly significant, I’d record it somewhere to ponder later.
The specifics of how you record your lists are not as important as the discipline of doing it. In fact, it’s the discipline that will pave the way for the greatest insight. Those moments when you really don’t feel grateful for anything will get you to dig deeper. But you won’t dig deeper unless disciplined commitment to the process requires that you record something. It’s a lot easier to eat ice cream and pout.
This week of Thanksgiving, you may not be with family. That brings the temptation to only see what’s missing. That’s why I’m planning to combine two practices and breathe my way through a gratitude workout.
How? Before I prepare my Cornish hen, I’m spending some time on my yoga mat. I’m going to sit in easy pose (Sukhasana) or stand in mountain pose (Tadasana) and slow my breath bringing my focus to my sit bones or the four corners of my feet, my thighs, my shoulders, my neck, my face. Once I’ve found the balance between effort and ease, I’ll begin to breathe my gratitude. A long breath in through the nose and a slow breath out for each item on my list. I may add a twist in between and a series of warrior poses before I rest in corpse pose (Savasana).
I’ll express gratitude for grocery delivery, Zoom & FaceTime, the warm weather that made fresh tomatoes and spinach from the garden possible for Thanksgiving, the flavor of those tomatoes, my grandchildren’s laughter, the internet, the heart of healthcare workers, brilliant maple leaves, and strong oak trees with rough bark.
None of those are equal to sitting around the table with my family, but grocery delivery means I have groceries without virus exposure. Zoom and the internet mean I’ll can see my family in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago. Fresh vegetables from my garden mean both healthy and tasty food. And cooking for one rather than a large group means I have time to sit still. Things don’t have to be perfect to enrich my life or make things better than they would be otherwise. I can be grateful for things that are just okay.
In fact, I am grateful for things that are just okay as well as things that are magnificent. But it’s easy to miss the magnificent if I only focus on what is wrong. In this year when it feels like so much has gone awry, a gratitude workout is just what the doctor ordered.