The more I heard about practicing gratitude, the more I thought, "that definitely isn't for me." It's not that I don't think it works; I've heard enough about the science-backed mental health benefits to accept that part. It's more that, whenever I'm depressed, anxious, or stressed (which has been pretty often lately, let's be real), the last thing I want to do is sit down and calmly list out all of the things I feel grateful for. If anything, it felt like forcing myself to feel thankful would just make me more stressed and upset.
But according to Nancy Irwin, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, it's when you're feeling the least grateful that a gratitude practice becomes essential. "That is the time it works best," she told POPSUGAR. "No matter how bad your day or life sucks at the moment, there is always, always something to be grateful for." Your vision, your ability to move, your family, your home: it may feel simple of surface-level, but these are all things you're glad to have.
The thing about feeling depressed, anxious, and stressed is that if you dwell on those feelings, they'll only pull you down deeper. It's not always easy to turn to gratitude in those moments, but that positive energy is what can bring you out of a funk. "Look, we get whatever we focus on, and whatever we focus on, expands," Dr. Irwin explained. "If you focus on your depression, hard times, setbacks . . . those will expand." You don't have to (and shouldn't) ignore those facts, if they're part of your reality, but you're also in control of how you can react to them. And that right there — having the ability, creativity, and intelligence to shape your own attitude — is another thing to be grateful for.
In essence, gratitude turns your negative filter into a positive filter, Dr. Irwin said. "This, in turn, can alleviate depression and anxiety, which can in turn alleviate the need for unhealthy escapes," like negative self-talk or addictions.
For a simple way to begin, Dr. Irwin recommended starting a gratitude journal. Set aside a few minutes each day, maybe right before you go to bed or after you wake up, and write a few things you feel grateful for, even if they're small or seemingly inconsequential, like Netflix or having your favorite snack in the kitchen. Even if it feels weird or even disingenuous right now, keep trying; focusing on those positives can brighten up your outlook and empower you to keep going. "It reminds us that life is filled with vicissitudes, and allows you to weather the down times, and trust there will be up ones again, too," Dr. Irwin said. Here are more tips on keeping a gratitude journal to help you find your way.