Sara Waters, MA, LPC - Speaker & Psychotherapist

#DailyAbundance – Gear Up Against Anxiety

Standing on top of a 14,000-foot mountain (a landmark affectionately referred to by Coloradoan’s as a “14er”) is an awe-inspiring thing.  Summitting one of these beautiful monsters is an earned experience.  It requires time, physical fitness, endurance, planning, mindful attention, and a great deal of determination.  Before any of the adventure can begin, however, a hiker needs to collect the gear.  One can certainly take on the challenge of a 14er without gear and preparation, and he/she might actually make it to the summit and back down.  But I wouldn’t recommend it.  It would be a risky and painful journey, to say the least.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 40-Million Americans battle anxiety to the point that it effects their ability to function in daily life.  It is a mountain that far too many of us are familiar with.  Decades of personal and societal pressure to achieve the “American Dream” of success and prosperity has resulted in more than 40-Million nervous systems that function as if they’ve been plugged into an electric socket.  A cause for concern equal to the alarming statistics is the fact that so many of us have actually become used to feeling like this.  It is our familiar, our normal!  We expect to feel anxious.  We’ve forgotten what it feels like to feel truly calm, relaxed and fully our true selves.  It seems as though we have missed the boat on what could perhaps be considered a “Human Dream” in which we get to live our lives calmly, free from habitual reactivity and self-inflicted suffering.  Disconnection (from ourselves and others) leads to suffering and struggle, feeding this epidemic of anxiety.  In this, along with a series of upcoming blogs, we will explore ways in which to reconnect with ourselves and others in a way that facilitates a geared-up and prepared foundation against this mountainous climb against anxiety.  When you finish reading each blog entry (especially this first 3 “Gear Up” entries), my hope is that you walk away with an applicable tactic to use in your every-day life that will lead you towards increased calm, enhanced clarity and a growing confidence in your ability to live in peace.  Since we are all rigged for pain and struggle during this life, let’s at least properly equip ourselves for the inevitable journey.

With no further adieu, let’s introduce your first piece of equipment.  Perhaps as important as a good pair of hiking boots or a Camelback to carry your water, for this climb you are going to need steady flow of GRATITUDE.  Did you know, there is tons of empirical research showing correlation between gratitude and health? (Yes, “tons of” is a scientific measurement.) Individuals who experience consistent levels of gratitude experience less mental, emotional and physical disorders.  Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that people struggling with clinical levels of depression/anxiety showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50% less!) than non-depressed people.  Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami found that study participants who wrote a few sentences each week about things they felt grateful for (over a 10-week stretch of time) reported feeling more optimistic about their lives.  These same people also ended up participating in more physical exercise and had fewer visits to the doctor than those who focused on sources of aggravation over this same 10-week period of time.

Our brains are a lot like our muscles in the sense that they need exercise to stay healthy.  Physical exercise will establish healthy lungs, heart and muscles, which are nice to have in our daily lives and pretty critical when taking on a 14-thousand foot mountain climb.  Consider GRATITUDE your new favorite elliptical machine.  If you’ll allow me to be your personal brain trainer, here is your first component to a new recommended daily fitness routine…

Practice gratitude daily.

At the bottom of this blog, I will provide a list of ways you can do this.  Get creative.  Get your kids, best friend, or spouse involved if that sounds fun.  In order to uproot the old tracks (quite literally… anxiety has laid some neurological pathways that need to be excavated), we’ll first need to prep the landscape for the new tracks of calm and clarity so that we can reroute our mental mindset.  GRATITUDE will be one of the tools to help us do this.

Ok, I know, I know… I sounds like an old broken record scratching through obnoxious choruses of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.  Trust me, I am not trying to blow smoke and convince you of any “at least” silver lining crap.  I’m merely recognizing that amidst the stress, chaos and bullshit of this world, there are always things to be grateful for.  And there’s way too much research showing that it absolutely makes us feel better, which is what we are all chasing, right?  Not sure how to start this party?  Here you go, borrow a few of mine…

I am grateful for this gorgeous sunset.
I am grateful NFL season has started.
I am grateful for the smell of grass after my lawn is mowed.
I am grateful for green grapes.
I am grateful for the sound of my kids’ laughter.
I am grateful that my legs are strong enough to hold me up.
I am grateful for the ability to read.
I am grateful for the clean air that I’m currently breathing.
I am grateful for stars.
I am grateful for coffee.
I am grateful for my husband’s beard.
I am grateful that I own a car.
I am grateful for clean socks.
I am grateful for sloths.
I am grateful for Pinterest.
I am grateful for campfires.
I am grateful for Starbursts (even the yellow ones).
I am grateful for the clean drinking water in my cup right now.
I am grateful for my sore (but stronger) muscles.
I am grateful for fuzzy blankets.
I am grateful for the quiet during snowfall.
I am grateful for my beating heart.
I am grateful for sleep.
I am grateful for marshmallows.
I am grateful for hugs.
I am grateful for books.
I am grateful for you.
I could go on… and on… and on…

Now you give it a try.  Partner up with your kids, your BFF, your mom, your small-group, your partner, your neighbor, your pen pal and pick a plan.  I would love to share in your experience with GRATITUDE.  In the spirit of connection, consider using the hashtag #dailyabundance to document any (or all) of your GRATITUDE practice.

In my recent social media survey about anxiety, a reported 80% of us experience anxiety in a way that effects our functionality in daily life, work, or relationships.  You aren’t alone.  Nearly 70% of us know someone under the age of 18 who struggles with anxiety.  Ahhhhh, you guys!!!  That’s not okay!  We have the power to dramatically lower these statistics for ourselves and our kids.  But if you want to make the climb, you gotta gear up.  Now you have your first piece of equipment, so get started.  Let’s do this.

Here are some examples of ways to practice GRATITUDE.  Please share your other ideas in the comments section below this blog!  I always love seeing how creative people can be.

  • Start a digital Gratitude Journal on Instagram and/or Facebook, posting one picture each day for something you are grateful for (tag pics with #DailyAbundance).
  • Keep a Gratitude Journal on your nightstand and write at least 1 thing that you are grateful for each day.
  • Drop a dime into a “fun money” jar every time you feel grateful for something.
  • In your day planner, jot down something you are grateful for on each day’s page.
  • Drop a marble into an empty milk jug for each thing you are grateful for.  Whenever it is full, treat yourself to a pizza night.
  • Start a gratitude jar.  Write things you are grateful for on little slips of colored paper and drop them into the jar throughout the week.
  • Make a pact with a friend to text message each other one thing each day that you are grateful for.
  • Download the “Calm” app and use the meditations specifically designed for gratitude.
  • Start a Gratitude Board on your Pinterest account.
  • Put a whiteboard up in your house and have each family member write one thing they are grateful for on the board each day… erase the board at the beginning of each new day.
  • Commit to 30-days of starting (or ending) your day with a 60-second eyes-closed meditation on the feeling of gratitude.
  • If you have a yoga practice, spend at least part of your final shavasana noticing gratitude.
  • If you are a runner, notice gratitude while you run… for your strong legs, your healthy heart, the solid ground, your running shoes, the sunshine, etc.
  • Create a scrapbook of quotes about gratitude.  There are bazillions of them on the Internet/Pinterest.
  • For one month, start your family dinner times by having each family member provide one thing from their day that he/she feels grateful for.
  • Write a few positive affirmation statements.  Read them out loud 3 times in the morning and 3 times before you go to bed.
  • Make it a game if you have young kids.  Give them one gummy bear for each thing they can think of to be grateful for.
  • Set a reminder on your phone to go off at the same time each day.  When the alarm goes off, use your phone “notepad” to jot down one thing you are grateful for so far that day.
  • Use an app like “Way of Life” to help develop a habit of practicing gratitude on a daily basis.

Cheers to you and this new journey.  Thanks for reading and being a part of this.  #DailyAbundance.  Ready, set, go.

By Sara Waters, MA, LPCC