Got Angst? Give Thanks! – Thought Tonic
In the month of November in the U.S., many of us celebrate the holiday we call Thanksgiving. We gather with family and friends, ideally over a hearty harvest meal, and take time to give thanks for the people we love and what is going well in our lives. We count and share our blessings.
But many of us, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, may find ourselves feeling anxious. For some, this anxiety can be a response to thoughts about the social situations involved in celebrating Thanksgiving itself. For others, it can stem from thinking ahead to the myriad pressures, social and otherwise, that are so often experienced as part of the rest of the holiday season. Whatever the reason for the anxiety we’re feeling, and whenever we’re feeling it, Thanksgiving provides a ready antidote — in the form of its very focus on gratitude!
What Gets Your Attention?
One approach we can use to address anxiety (a cognitive behavioral approach) involves looking at how we fuel this feeling by what we pay attention to and what we remember.
Many of us tend to focus on what is consistent with our self-doubt, our sense of the world as unpredictable or unsafe, our assumptions that others are thinking negatively of us and will reject us, our expectations of a worst-case scenario, and the like. In the process, we dismiss or minimize, if not completely ignore, experiences we could describe as positive and for which we could feel thankful. For example, if we are giving a talk and notice that some members of the audience seem bored, we don’t see that others appear to be enjoying our presentation. Or, if we muster the courage to talk to someone we like at a party, we remember only having tripped over our words at some point, rather than how smoothly the rest of the conversation went. We engage in selective attention and memory.
The Perks of Practicing Gratitude
I would suggest that, as a response to anxiety, practicing gratitude does not only help us think more positively; it supports us in thinking more realistically. For those of us who struggle with feeling anxious, giving thanks balances out our tendency to concentrate on what we fear and interpret as negative, our inclination to “screen out” all other aspects of and ways of looking at our experiences. In this way, giving thanks helps shift our perspective.
Some of us may practice gratitude by writing down what we’re thankful for in a journal each day. Others of us may meditate on the topic or celebrate what’s going well in our lives with the people who are close to us. What are some of the ideas you have about how you can practice gratitude? What are ways in which you already give thanks that you can continue, and build on?
I hope that you’ll find ways to give yourself the gift of thanks whenever you’re feeling angst, not only in the coming weeks or on Thanksgiving, but through the entire year. Whatever methods we choose, the practice of gratitude can help us develop an increased sense of calm and confidence over time — one more thing for which we can be thankful!
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