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University of South Florida

Expressing Gratitude – Improving Your Mental Health

Thanksgiving is supposed to be about giving thanks, but as USF Health Psychologist Dr. Heather Agazzi, points out, sometimes the holiday becomes more about stressing out over the pursuit of perfection.

“We are excited and worried that we are going to get everything just right,” Dr. Agazzi said. “And then we dwell on the disappointment if something is burned, or the embarrassment of a parent being too loud about their political views.”

What if Thanksgiving stayed true to its namesake: expressing gratitude, being at peace with our lives, expressing our love for our most cherished.

Why can’t we bottle this optimism, contentment, and true appreciation of what we have? Or can we?

We can develop a habit of expressing gratitude, much like regular exercise, and embrace it as a way to see the world.

Expressions of gratitude make us feel good as well as others around us. They also help decrease the stress and anxiety that inevitably comes with the holiday season.

Recently, Dr. Agazzi shared how to incorporate expressions of gratitude into our holiday, as well as our daily lives:

  • Value spending time with loved ones
    Try to be an active listener this holiday. It can be rewarding to observe and understand more about our family. Put the cell phone away, turn off the TV and communicate the traditional way,being respectful and attentive. Encourage conversation with loved ones by asking questions and letting others fully express their thoughts.
  • Use expressions of gratitude
    There are simple ways to express gratitude through kind gestures. Add thoughtful place card holders to the Thanksgiving table with the guest’s name and one simple thing you appreciate about this person. This act of gratitude promises to inspire smiles and hugs from guests, enriching the meaning of this special holiday.
  • Reflect on past holidays/Consciously Slowing Down
    The holidays can be a time of reflection on past traditions or gatherings, expressing gratitude and making family members feel valued in our lives. It’s also beneficial to our mental health to develop a habit of consciously choosing to slow down and enjoy life, taking ten minutes of quiet time to ourselves or with the comfort of a pet.
  • Go outside
    Go outside, appreciate the fresh air and the beauty of nature. If the weather is cool and sunny on Thanksgiving Day, why not have appetizers on the patio? This is an easy way to get everyone outside, lifting your spirits, as well as others around you.
  • Volunteer
    Volunteering is a great way to express gratitude.Sometimes volunteering our time is not feasible, but volunteering resources such as food items or donating financially can be options to consider during the holidays. Helping others is a wonderful value to instill in children.
  • Journal daily
    Start a gratitude journal. Every day, take a moment to type three to five simple things you are thankful for in your notes on your cellphone. Journaling cultivates daily mindfulness and an appreciation of life. This practice helps us focus on what we have, not on what we are struggling with at the time.

Beyond the holidays, our lives continue to be hectic. Dr. Agazzi recommends embracing self-care to maintain our health. She encourages everyone to,“Try to sleep eight hours a day and choose to eat growing, healthy foods first, before other choices.”

Written by: Kathleen Rogers


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