Gratitude: The power to shift more than just your health.

Dr. Miaken Zeiger | Monday December 21, 2020

Heartfelt Gratitude & Thankfulness

In my recent health workshop on Gratitude: How It Impacts Your Brain and Health, I discuss how heartfelt gratitude and thankfulness are some of the fastest ways to change our perception and attitude of our current mental state and physical health. Why is this so important? A new report published by the CDC, titled: “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020,” demonstrates a troubling shift in the mental health of Americans since the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 5,470 participants in the analysis:

    • 41% of people were assessed to have at least one adverse mental disorder.
    • 31% had symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder.
    • 26% of people were diagnosed with a Trauma and Stressor Related Disorder (TSRD) arising from the pandemic.
    • 13% had increased or started substance use to deal with the stress of COVID.
    • 25% of adults aged 18-24 had seriously considered committing suicide in June (representing a doubling of this statistic from the same period in 2018.)

This is not okay. It’s disturbing, sad, scary… whatever adjective you want to use. Something needs to change regarding the direction our mental health is moving. But, we first must understand why there is a radical shift in our mental health amidst this pandemic. In You Are the Placebo, Dr. Joe Dispenza discusses how your thoughts and feelings come from your past experiences and memories.

If you think and feel a certain way, you begin to create an attitude. An attitude is a cycle of short-term thoughts and feelings experienced over and over again. Attitudes are shortened states of being. If you string a series of attitudes together, you create a belief. Beliefs are more elongated states of being and tend to become subconscious. When you add beliefs together, you create a perception. Your perceptions have everything to do with the choices you make, the behaviors you exhibit, the relationships you choose, and the realities you create.

So, what is the messaging we continue to hear over and over and over that has created our reality in 2020? My observation: fear, isolation, death, disconnect, uncertainty, loss, and doubt. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl shares that even in the worst of circumstances, those who survived the concentrations camps were those who found meaning and purpose in day-to-day life. Has 2020 found you wavering in your purpose? We need a great “un-doing.” A message of purpose, meaning, and hope applied with the level of time, frequency, and intensity to match and exceed the messaging that has been… and it can start with gratitude.

What is Your Focus?
What and to whom do you give your energy? You can’t simultaneously be in a state of growth and disease, but you can choose growth with heartfelt gratitude and thankfulness.

Gratitude Quote by Charles Dickens

According to Dr. Melanie Greenberg feeling and expressing gratitude turns our mental focus to the positive, which compensates for our brain’s natural tendency to focus on threats, worries, and negative aspects of life. Gratitude creates positive emotions like joy, love, and contentment which research shows can undo the grip of negative emotions like anxiety. Fostering gratitude can also broaden your mind and create positive cycles of thinking and behaving in healthy, positive ways.

Negative Emotions & Your Immune Response
The study of psychoneuroimmunology, the interaction between our mind, nervous system, and immune system show repeatedly that being in a state of heart-focused, sincere, positive feelings boost the immune system, while negative emotions may suppress the immune response for up to six hours following that emotional experience. Furthermore, a cascade of 1,400 different biochemicals are released by the body as soon as it senses a stressful emotion. These hormones and neurotransmitters affect how you perceive and feel. Negative emotions keep your system bathed in stress hormones, which speeds up your biochemical aging clock, draining emotional buoyancy and physical vitality.

As Dr. Joe Dispenza indicated above, it becomes a challenge when our stressful emotions become a habit (and impact our reality, experience, memory) that lead to psychological and biochemical problems. Additionally, decades of research through the HeartMath® Institute has shown an interactive connection between the heart and brain; and how that relationship responds to positive and negative influences.

The heart has a significant effect on brain function, including influencing emotional processing and higher cognitive faculties (attention, perception, memory and problem-solving.) Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measures your adaptability, resiliency and behavioral flexibility to stress and emotional demands. Stress and negative emotions cause erratic and disordered heart rhythm affecting the brain, limiting the ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason and make effective decisions. On the other hand, positive emotions benefit the entire body, creating coherence and profoundly affect how we perceive, think, feel and perform.

Quick Coherence Technique
The practice of daily heartfelt gratitude can have an “undoing effect” on negative emotions; in addition to the health benefits listed above. There are many gratitude practices that can be implemented into a daily routine that can be impactful to our mental and physical well-being. One of my favorite techniques to create a positive shift in emotions is the Quick Coherence Technique, developed by HeartMath® Institute. It is comprised of a 3-step process: Heart Focus, Heart Breathing, and Heart Feeling.

Steps for Quick Coherence Technique Step 1: Heart Focus: Focus your attention around your heart, in the center of your chest. Step 2: Heart Breathing: Breathe deeply, but normally, feeling your breath coming in and out of your heart area. Count slowly to five as you inhale, and slowly to five as you exhale to help you gain a deeper, healthier rhythm. Step 3: Heart Feeling: Most importantly, while maintaining Heart Focus and Heart Breathing, activate a positive feeling (remember a special place, the love you feel for a close friend or family member or pet; anything that feels good to you.) The important thing is that you feel your emotion associated with the positive feeling. Hold the feeling for 20-seconds.

For a walk-through of the Coherence Technique, check-out the YouTube video: Quick Coherence Technique

Regardless of how you choose to practice your daily gratitude; I strongly encourage you to implement it into your daily life. It is not only vital to your longevity, health and well-being, but also your perception of the world and your reality. For more details, check-out my Direct2U Health Workshop on Gratitude here!

It’s pretty cool that you can influence your physical, mental and emotional health through the simple daily practice of gratitude. I invite you to join me in the practice of gratitude in 2021, as we’ve all got some “undoing” of emotions following this year. Stay tuned for our January 2021 Gratitude Challenge! Love and appreciate you!

In Health,
Dr. Miaken

References:
1. Charles Dickens (M. Dickens, 1897, p. 45)
2. Czeisler, Mark É. “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic—United States, June 24–30, 2020.” MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 69 (2020).
3. Greenberg M. (2015, November 22) How Gratitude Leads to a Happier Life, source Psychology Today.
4. Rein G, Atkinson M, McCraty R. The physiological and psychological effects of compassion and anger. Journal of Advancement in Medicine. 1995;8(2):87-105.
5. The HeartMath Institute (February, 2015): “The Power of Emotion
6. The HeartMath Institute. (Summer, 2017): “The Heart-Brain Connection

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