‘Tis the time of year—in the United States, anyway—for eating copious amounts of food while surrounded by loved ones, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. Some celebrate with friends, others spend the day with family, but overall, most find a way to gather in the spirit of feasting and thankfulness.
In honor of this tradition, it seems appropriate to take a closer look at gratitude and its impact on overall well-being. Many people have heard of the benefits of expressing thanks, whether in the form of a daily gratitude journal or a consistent practice of acknowledging the good and saying a thank-you to the people responsible for it.
For mental health professionals in particular, research has found that taking the time to appreciate the things a person has in his or her life not only has the potential to boost mood and improve outlook, but also relieves job burnout (Lanham, Rye, Rimsky, and Weill, 2012). In a profession that requires a significant amount of giving to others in the form of time, energy, care, and concern, it is important to be vigilant when it comes to self-care.
Emotional exhaustion may lead to a host of issues, including depression, anxiety, and a lack of motivation and job satisfaction. Incorporating gratitude-based practices may help to prevent this dreaded downward spiral. In a study published in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, researchers shared their findings based on questionnaires filled out by 65 counselors, case managers, clinical supervisors, employment/housing specialists, social workers, and psychologists (Lanham et al., 2012).
But the researchers go on to cite additional studies that have shown the positive impact of gratitude on negative emotions and personal wellness, and they point out that simply writing down five things every day to be thankful for can do wonders for shifting a person’s mood to a more positive state—even at work.
The nice thing about a day like Thanksgiving is that most people do not have to go to work; they’re on holiday. With that in mind, another way to alleviate burnout is to get some rest, and let the body’s naturally restorative powers do their thing. Conveniently, getting adequate sleep has been shown to increase a person’s experience of gratitude.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, not getting enough sleep leads to less feelings of appreciation and gratitude in general (Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 2013). And in relationships, when one partner gets inadequate sleep, he or she is less likely to feel or express gratitude for his or her partner; the other partner then feels less appreciation for him or her in response, and the cycle of ingratitude perpetuates until one person gets the rest they need.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, a simple remedy may be to give thanks (even if it feels forced initially) and go to sleep; research suggests that life will appear sunnier in the morning.
- Lanham, M. E., Rye, M. S., Rimsky, L. S., and Weill, S. R. (2012, October). How gratitude relates to burnout and job satisfaction in mental health professionals. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 34.4, 341–354.
- Society for Personality and Social Psychology. (2013, January 22). Discovery of surprising connections between our well-being and giving, getting, and gratitude. Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl. Published online November 26, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/255164
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