Sometimes it’s extra hard to feel grateful for your life. And that “sometimes,” could include tough days dealing with menopause symptoms. Especially when you’re having a brutal hot flash, or series of hot flashes (ugh!).
Luckily, the season of giving is almost upon us, when it’s easiest to experience a sense of gratitude and then also enjoy the benefits of those positive feelings.
The good news is that you don’t need to stop the gratitude party when you’re at a loss for stuff to feel happy about. In fact, that’s the best time to start feeling warm and cozy about things you didn’t even know you could feel grateful for.
The benefits of gratitude range from emotional to psychological to physical. Starting this type of practice can help you deal with your own sea of emotions as well as navigate the emotions of others.
When you’re in the thick of things (especially “bad” things), it’s easy to start believing your own negative narrative.
Why did they do this to me? Why do bad things always happen to me? I wonder if I deserve this?
We’ve all been there, and we all still fall into it from time to time.
More good news is that it’s pretty much impossible to feel sorry for yourself and grateful for something simultaneously. Don’t ignore your pain. But don’t get stuck in it either.
How? Acknowledge it, and move on to positive thoughts (perhaps about other things, initially), such as gratitude.
Another one of the benefits of gratitude is that it can even help your body feel better! Studies show that people who practice gratitude daily show fewer signs of stress and anxiety. They sleep better, make better choices, and fewer suffer from depression.
What does this all mean scientifically?
Reduced stress and anxiety means reduced cortisol levels. Cortisol is that hormone that can turn your body into a butter churn of stress, which is why it’s called the "stress hormone."
One of the best ways to reduce your cortisol? Develop a loving-kindness practice. One such practice is to start writing out what you’re grateful for in a gratitude journal.
When you’re grateful for something (or someone), happiness almost always follows. In fact, studies show that patients who take note of happiness triggers feel more optimistic than subjects who were encouraged to journal their stressors.
Gratitude can even make the recipient of your “thank yous” a little happier. Studies prove that the simple act of gratitude can make your workplace happier and your employees more productive. Better relationships, a happy demeanor, and increased productivity? Let’s do it!
Gratitude can even give you some insight into the actions of others, otherwise known as empathy. When you’re grateful for everything in your life, you suddenly start opening your eyes to the lives of others.
Let’s say you notice that you’re grateful for your morning coffee, and you acknowledge it every day. The beans, the aroma, the extras like cream, milk, sugar, or honey you have and get to enjoy. You love your hand-thrown ceramic mug, and you especially adore that first rich, warm sip of your first cup of the day.
After a time, you may start noticing all things coffee-related, especially if someone is asking for spare change on a cold day to try to buy a hot beverage. You might then just realize that the freedom to buy a cup of coffee every day really is a lot to be thankful for.
All of this empathy begets more empathy. Feeling happy, understanding others, and getting healthy can get you in the right mindset to start seeing what changes you can make in the world.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to navigate emotional relationships with empathy and self-control. It can help you strengthen your current relationships and build new ones.
The good news is that there are no set rules on how to start a gratitude practice. That being said, we’ve put together a few suggestions to guide you in building your own practice and starting to enjoy the benefits. Take a look:
You’re more likely to stick to a new habit if you don’t go all out in the beginning. Instead of asking yourself to make a list of 20 things to be grateful for each day, just start with one.
Set a timer on your phone for the same time every day. When the timer goes off, write down one thing you’re grateful for. Easy.
If you’re in a rut, you can always keep a few writing prompts in your pocket. Some of our favorite things to be grateful for include:
Just start writing down stuff you love and why you’re grateful it’s in your life. Or, don’t write it down at all. Make a list in your head on your morning commute or on your lunch break… or while you’re on hold on a call.
If you really want to get fancy, you can start writing down your gratitude lists in your journal. Or, buy a special journal or notebook just for this practice. One of the benefits of gratitude journals is that you can go back and remember the good stuff during the rough times.
A couple of our least-favorite parts in going through menopause are hormonal fluctuations and depression. And as we all know, depression lies. When you’re starting to feel like there was never a time you were happy, crack open your gratitude journal to find the proof you left for yourself.
The important thing is to get really specific about what you are grateful for and also why you’re grateful for it.
Instead of writing, I’m grateful for my husband, Ted, expound. I’m grateful for my husband, especially when he takes out the trash because he knows how much I hate going out to the cold garage at night.
Do you see the difference? Writing the why triggers emotional responses in your brain. As you write out your why, all you can think is, “Dang it! I love that Ted. He really goes out of his way for me.”
Let’s face it: it’s easier to be grateful for the good stuff than the bad stuff. We assume right now you’re rolling your eyes at us and saying, “What the hormone is this? How can I be grateful for the crap that’s going on?”
We get it. It is tough.
But have you ever had something really crummy happen (you lost your job, broke up with a significant other, or ruined your favorite sweater) only to find out that losing that job was just the kick in the pants you needed to start your own company? (Let’s not even get started on that sweater... it was sooo 1994.)
You weren’t grateful for losing those things in the moment, of course. But when you reflect on the situation now, you may realize that the tough and crummy stuff were necessary evils in order to get you onto the current path to financial, and fashion, enlightenment.
It's a very tall order, some days. And as humans, we may not be grateful every single day. We go through some really hard stuff, including menopause.
So, if you can, be thankful and be specific.
Don’t just take our word for it. This information isn’t just anecdotal, it’s also quantifiable.
When we are grateful for something, our hypothalamus and ventral tegmental area are activated. The hypothalamus manages stress, and the ventral tegmental area is our brain’s “pleasure center.”
That means that the same areas that are affected during sex and eating chocolate cookies are also activated by feelings of gratitude. And while chocolate cookies might give you a greater boost in the beginning, their return on investment diminishes over time as we start to feel the negative effects of weight gain, sugar crashes, and depression.
Ultimately, gratitude practices can transform our bodies and minds, inside and out. But don’t take our word for it: give gratitude a chance yourself. You’ll be so grateful you did.
If depression or anxiety are especially tough to walk through, we encourage and support you in talking it over with your doc (or ours) or bring it to our community forums. It’s important to feel as good, and as well, as you can during this important change in your body and life.