As we continue to scientifically learn more about our brains and bodies, we uncover new and incredible information about how our systems operate.
More and more, we’re discovering the inherent connection that unites the mind and the body. What we think and how we feel directly affect our physiological bodies in ways we could have never before imagined.
This connection has been dubbed the mind-body connection, and emphasizes the power our minds have over our physical bodies.
Our thoughts and emotions are powerful tools. And when we learn about the inherent potential they possess, we can harness that energy and wield it to improve our physical health.
Gratitude is one of the keys to our internal health and wellbeing. How does gratitude impact the body? First, we’ll discuss what stress does to body, and then we’ll explore how gratitude can help.
How Stress Negatively Impacts the Body
This will likely come as no surprise to anyone, but — stress is bad for the body. We’re willing to bet you already knew that, not because you’ve read the medical studies conducted on this topic, but because you know how awful it feels to be stressed out.
When we undergo stress and anxiety, the body triggers our intrinsic fight or flight mechanism. This ancient instinct is what kept us alive thousands upon thousands of years ago when we were running for our lives from sabertooth tigers.
Today? Well, we may not have to battle tigers on our way into work, but when you’re stuck in gridlocked traffic, your body actually undergoes the same physiological processes!
Here are some of the immediate physical symptoms associated with stress:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Dry mouth
- Clenched jaw
- Ringing in the ears
- Sweaty hands
- Muscle tension
It’s certainly no picnic to be caught in a wave of anxiety, and sadly, we’re confronted by stressful situations on a daily basis, often many times a day.
But stress goes far beyond the immediate physiological symptoms at the onset. Long term effects of stress include:
- Increased depression
- Lowered immune system function
- Increased inflammation
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Poor digestion
Long-term chronic stress has the potential to wreak havoc on our bodies and minds, and too often, these symptoms of anxiety go unnoticed, or ignored.
Emotions have a physical language within us. We may believe that when we feel an emotion, we experience it cognitively or emotionally, but there’s a very real physical presence in our bodies to the thoughts and emotions we harbor.
When we’re angry, our stomachs clench. When we’re sad, our chests tighten. When we’re excited or nervous, our pulse quickens.
So, how can we work with the physical language of our emotions to improve our physical health?
That’s where the practice of gratitude comes in.
3 Ways Gratitude Can Benefit Your Body
The art of exercising positive mindsets and emotions in the face of challenging circumstances is something everyone can learn. And the beneficial effects of cultivating these traits is exponential.
Gratitude is a positive state that both our minds and bodies can safely and comfortably reside in. Practicing gratitude has a wealth of benefits for the brain and body.
So, let’s take a look at how fostering an attitude of gratitude can help heal your body!
1. More Gratitude? Less Anxiety
We just examined the negative impact that anxiety has on the body. So, if you’re looking for a simple route to decrease your daily stress levels, try incorporating some gratitude into your life!
In a study conducted in 2012 by Chinese researchers, study participants who practiced daily gratitude exercises were demonstrated to have decreased levels of anxiety and depression.
More gratitude? Less stress. Less stress? A healthier, happier body.
The study also showed that high levels of gratitude correlated with improved sleep. So, one way to ensure you net yourself a great night’s sleep and nip anxiety in the bud while you’re at it is to try a gratitude exercise before bed!
See if you can come up with 5 things you’re thankful for, just as you’re falling asleep. You’re sure to enjoy a more restful night’s sleep, and may find yourself less anxious the next day! Win-win!
2. Gratitude Has Been Linked to Increased Optimism
Not only does gratitude tackle uncomfortable feelings of tension, anxiety, and depression, but it has also been linked to increased states of optimism.
Optimism is the confidence we foster that encourages us to believe that the future holds a positive outcome. Those severely lacking in optimism could be said to be engaging in pessimism, or the belief that the worst will happen.
More optimism in our lives helps us feel motivated to continue on through life’s difficulties and do our best. It’s a state we all benefit from, and optimism has a tangible, positive effect on the people around us. Positivity has the potential to spread like wildfire, and when we practice gratitude, we strengthen the neural pathways that encourage states of optimism and positivity.
Practicing gratitude makes us happier, more hopeful people. When we take the time to focus on the positive aspects of our life, we become more inclined to notice such things in the future. When we notice such things in the future, we contribute to our ability to experience even more optimism. It’s a happy cycle that just continues to feed itself!
Studies have shown that increased optimism reduces the risk and severity of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and upper-respiratory infections. It also improves the body’s immune system, and helps fight chronic inflammation and pain.
3. Gratitude Produces Feel Good Neurotransmitters
A study out of the National Institutes of Health demonstrated higher activity in the hypothalamus for study subjects actively practicing gratitude.
What does this mean? Well, the hypothalamus is a part of the brain that’s responsible for controlling and regulating a whole host of important bodily functions, like eating, drinking, metabolic processes, and sleep patterns.
A healthier, happier, more engaged hypothalamus suggests improved physiological functioning across a wide spectrum.
This study also concluded that in practicing gratitude, the brain’s dopamine pathways are triggered. Dopamine is the brain’s reward neurotransmitter, responsible for the feel-good energy we’re given, and feelings of motivation, desire, and improved concentration.
In fact, dopamine is sometimes called the motivation molecule. Having more dopamine in your brain will help you feel energized, motivated, and ready to take on whatever challenges come your way.
Get Into the Attitude of Gratitude for a Healthier Body
Practicing gratitude helps us combat stress. It decreases our levels of anxiety and depression. It helps us sleep better, work better, eat better, and feel better.
It directly contributes to a more positive, optimistic outlook on life, which in turn increases our immune system functionality, and decreases inflammation and chronic pain. Gratitude also gives us a kick of dopamine, the reward and motivation neurotransmitter that empowers us to get out there and succeed!
Did you know that gratitude could have such a significant impact on the body? Make sure you share this with loved ones so they can learn more about the power of gratitude!