Can Gratitude Really Help Anxiety?

Can Gratitude Really Help Anxiety?

Can gratitude really help anxiety? Surprisingly, it can. Gratitude is a concept involving appreciation and a sense of thankfulness for what is good in our lives. Anxiety is an experience involving a great deal of unwelcome thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and behaviors. Anxiety can be all-encompassing; rob us of a sense of wellbeing, centeredness, and joy; or even keep us locked out of the life we’d like to live. Here’s a look at what gratitude is and how it helps anxiety by shifting thoughts and feelings away from anxiety and replacing them with appreciation and action.

Gratitude Can Help Anxiety When You Understand It

For gratitude to make a positive difference in your life, it’s helpful to get to know its true nature.

Gratitude is not:

  • A magic wand that makes problems disappear
  • A mental health tool to be used only occasionally to fix things
  • A way to ignore challenges
  • A forced or false pollyanna approach to life

Gratitude is:

  • A way of thinking about yourself, your life, and the world in general
  • An emotion
  • An action
  • An awakening
  • A way of being

Gratitude is anxiety’s rival. They’re both ways of interpreting the world and living in it. Gratitude helps anxiety because rather than seeking to cover it up or just mute it, it offers a replacement for anxiety. As you begin to practice gratitude, it becomes your default way of thinking, feeling, and doing. 

Gratitude as a Perspective

It’s a different way of thinking and feeling. Gratitude awakens your natural ability to see more than what is wrong. With an attitude of appreciation, you begin to see what is good in yourself, others, and situations around you. 

Gratitude is rooted in the present moment, which makes it more real and true than anxiety. Anxiety is grounded in worries about the past or the future. When you purposefully set out to look for the good in your life and in the world in general, you are living right now, in the present moment. This is a shift away from anxiety’s racing thoughts about problems that might happen and ruminations about what has already happened. When you immerse yourself in the moment, you switch out of anxiety mode.

The present moment is rich and full. It may very well be stressful or rife with problems, but it full of wonderful things as well. Make it a habit to start pausing as you go about your day to pull yourself out of your anxious thoughts and emotions and concentrate on something good in your present moment. Can you focus on one person that you care about, or can you identify a visual reminder of something you enjoy? When you make it a habit to notice these things, to bring them into your full awareness, and to make a point of feeling grateful for them, you override anxiety in that moment.

As you do more of this seeking and shifting, your sense of gratitude grows stronger and your anxiety becomes weaker. Gratitude overpowers anxiety because gratitude builds your outlook on life from the inside out. It takes power away from anxiety and puts you in charge of how you decide to interpret and respond to problems and situations that are out of your direct control. 

Gratitude as an Action

Developing a grateful perspective frees you to begin to take positive action to reclaim your life from anxiety. Actions speak louder than words. It’s positive action that ultimately beats anxiety–it’s the act of doing things, whether it’s meditation, yoga, creative endeavors, meaningful work (paid or volunteer), connecting with others, etc.–that allows you to burst out of anxiety’s grasp and keep going. 

When you tune in to things and people for which you’re grateful, you just might begin to notice that you feel more centered and energized. Anxiety’s grip has loosened just enough for you to wiggle a bit. You’ve positioned yourself to take meaningful action to create more good in your life. 

Feeling grateful for people in your life often leads to purposefully connecting with them more often. Actively noticing and appreciating the one person who was friendly to you when you went to the store rather than focusing on the throng of grouches that grumbled at you helps you realize that the entire world isn’t against you. That one nice person is motivating and can help you respond to others in kind. 

Gratitude is both an attitude and an action. Cultivating a grateful outlook and then using it to inspire positive action really does help put anxiety in its place–out of your life. 

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC



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