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Gratitude Good For the Heart, in More Ways than One

The holidays can be a stressful time, but centering gratitude in one's life can help people mentally and physically. (Maggiepoo/Pixabay)
The holidays can be a stressful time, but centering gratitude in one's life can help people mentally and physically. (Maggiepoo/Pixabay)
November 19, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — What are you grateful for this holiday season? The answer could be good for your health.

According to a number of studies, expressing gratitude can reduce levels of stress and feelings of loneliness. And that, in turn, can improve physical health by leading to more sleep and energy, or even reduced blood pressure.

Dr. Susanna Block, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente, said focusing on gratitude during what can be a stressful time of year is a great idea. She said one study looked at people who discussed stressful experiences and compared them with those who spoke about what they were grateful for.

"Those who focused on gratitude really showed decreased anxiety and a more positive mindset,” Block said. “It's interesting that health and gratitude really go hand in hand. I think if you feel more grateful and more positive, you sleep better, you have better relationships. It’s an important health tool."

Doctor Mary Jane Lambert is a Kaiser Permanente physician specializing in geriatrics. She said while the holidays can be especially hard for people who have lost a loved one, it’s a tough season for everyone, because expectations are high that families will feel connected and celebrate their time together.

She said one gratitude practice people can incorporate - during this season and throughout the year - is a simple, daily reminder about the positives in one's life.

"It may be a family member who visits, a phone call, a personal connection,” Lambert said. “Even if someone has tended to dwell on the negative, there are ways to change that."

Block said making gratitude more central to a person's life doesn't have to end with the holidays. She said families can discuss what they're grateful for over dinner.

"But sometimes it might be just bringing it up while you're in the car driving your kids around,” Block suggested; “or just at any other time when you have a moment to say, 'How was your day?' and 'What were you grateful for?'"

Block suggested discussing gratitude with kids and getting them involved in an activity of generosity, such as cooking for a sick friend or volunteering.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV