By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Giving thanks shouldn’t be limited to one holiday dinner per year. The practice of taking a moment to appreciate what we have can lower stress levels and help us end overthinking. This week on Wondrium Shorts, reap the benefits of gratitude.
Considering the pros and cons of anything is an important decision-making tool. However, anxiety brought on by needless scrutiny can lead to avoidance—and even a kind of mental paralysis. This is the world of overthinking.
Overthinking is a bad habit that raises our stress levels, limits our creative and problem-solving thinking, wastes our time, and doesn’t get us any closer to finding a solution for the issue we’re facing. When we get stuck in a rut of overthinking, it can be difficult to escape, but gratitude practice can help. In her video series Overcome Your Overthinking, Dr. Heidi Sormaz, the founder of Fresh Yoga LLC, illustrates the essential reasons for turning to the practice of gratitude in order to stop overthinking.
The Benefits of Being Thankful
According to Dr. Sormaz, gratitude can be thought of as an attitude of thankfulness for the benefits one has received. This involves noticing the value and meaning of something and feeling a positive emotional connection to it.
“Psychologists find that feeling grateful boosts happiness and increases both physical and psychological well-being, even among those struggling with mental health problems,” Dr. Sormaz said. “It changes your physiology, your mood, and your thinking. It also helps people be more open-minded and flexible, allowing us to interpret stressful experiences differently.”
According to Dr. Sormaz, actively practicing gratitude enhances the brain’s serotonin and dopamine levels. Both these are neurotransmitters that decrease anxiety and depressive symptoms. Practicing gratitude even increases neuromodulation of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for managing negative emotions, thereby, making them more manageable.
Taking the time to be grateful for what we have also helps us sleep at night. Gratitude practice activates the hypothalamus, which regulates sleep; studies have shown that gratitude and positive thinking are strongly associated with longer and better quality sleep at night.
Gratitude for Thought
“Maybe most interesting for our purposes, though, is how gratitude changes thinking,” Dr. Sormaz said. “Studies show that practicing gratitude shifts an individual’s attention away from negative emotions like resentment and envy; and when our attention has shifted, this helps reduce the possibility of obsessively thinking about negative things. Gratitude has also been shown to counteract depressive rumination.”
Rumination is a form of overthinking that’s also one of the most common characteristics of depression. When we ruminate, we think negatively about ourselves and our problems repeatedly. It’s also commonly known as “stewing.” Since it usually happens in a certain depressive mindset, it can become a bad habit. Even worse, it can progress and become an entire personality trait.
“But practicing gratitude really can reduce our depressive rumination by removing the mood that kicks it into gear,” Dr. Sormaz said. “Our brain can’t focus on positive and negative information at the same time; so by consciously practicing gratitude, we can train the brain to be selectively focusing on positive emotions and thoughts, which reduces feelings of anxiety and depression.
“This is the opposite of the negative emotional cascade.”
Overcome Your Overthinking is now available to stream on Wondrium.