We're all familiar with the connection between a positive attitude and overall well-being. But during challenging times, it can be difficult to muster the enthusiasm for the strategies we use to stay well during more "normal" times.
For Carilion’s Mark Greenawald, M.D., vice chair of Carilion’s Family Medicine Department, professor of Family Medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM), that's where gratitude comes in. Dr. Greenawald recently spoke with the American Medical Association and his peers in health care about intentionally adopting daily gratitude practices to foster well-being and resilience.
Dr. Greenawald thinks of gratitude as "a gift that you can give yourself,” to improve relationships, physical symptoms and “our capacity to cope with the stress so it can help make us more resilient."
"All those things are part of the gift that you can give yourself by having regular gratitude practice,” he said.
The 3 Blessings Practice
Once a day, take a few minutes to write down three good things that happen. Then reflect on what it is about those things that makes you feel that way.
“Doing this regularly—even over the course of two weeks—once a day will allow you to begin to recalibrate your gratitude lens," said Dr. Greenawald. Then you can "start looking out and seeing more gratitude because that's what you're looking for.”
The COVID-19 Blessing
While at first it might seem strange to think of positive outcomes from the pandemic, Dr. Greenawald encourages it. "When people step back and think about this, they come up with things immediately that have been blessings for them,” he said
This might include more time with family, learning new hobbies or skills or establishing new family traditions. Recognizing those gifts requires “stepping back for the first time in a long time and just taking a breath,” he said, which can be a blessing in itself.
The Last-Time Meditation
Dr. Greenawald told the AMA about a new patient who had moved to Roanoke after given a prognosis of only four weeks to live. The patient saw every day as a gift, so approached everything he did as though it were for the last time.
“The last-time meditation is an opportunity to step back and say, ‘If this was the last time I was doing this, how would I be present differently than I am right now?’” said Dr. Greenawald.
“It's not something you want to do all the time, but I promise you, if you try this, you will be present in a very, very different way.”
Dr. Greenawald points out that regardless of our circumstances, the life we're living here today is out of reach for billions of people.
“Just having that shift in perspective and realizing how incredibly fortunate we are, allows us the chance to step back and live in that perspective,” he said.
When to Seek Help
While gratitude and other forms of self-care are vital to well-being, they're not always enough. If you feel overwhelmed or find that your work, home life or relationships are suffering, do not hesitate to share your concerns with a mental health professional or your primary care provider. While we're all going through this pandemic together, we all have unique and changing needs—especially now.