Gratitude – the antidote to Anxiety?

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Last night I soaked in a beautiful bath fit for a Princess. My daughter and her friend had filled it with glitter and fresh lavender from our garden, so it seemed rude not to take the opportunity for a bit of relaxation on a cold and rainy August evening!  Being a practical kind of princess, I also tipped in some Himalayan bath salts – full of magnesium and great for releasing toxins from the body and for sleep.

I lay there, feeling full of love and gratitude for those two sweet girls, who had just, in their playing, reminded me that we should never lose our sparkle, just because we grow up.  I also felt an immense gratitude for the fact that I could enjoy a bath. Eight or nine months ago I could barely get in the bath, trying to wash myself took every ounce of energy, and when I got out I would have to lie on the bathroom floor, exhausted, until I could manage to get up and get back to my bed – which was right next door.  I know I’ve mentioned gratitude briefly in other blogs, but it’s so important it definitely deserves to shine all on its own.

One of the blessings of a chronic illness is that I seriously appreciate so many little things that I previously took for granted. I wasn’t ever ungrateful, but I didn’t stop to think about being grateful for them.  Now I’m grateful for everything. When I started being able to get out of bed and be downstairs some of the time, I was so grateful for being able to sit on my sofa. I am still grateful every time I sit on it. Then I was grateful for being able to have a shower, now I’m also grateful for being able to stand in the shower most days rather than sit in the bottom of it. I could go on forever, listing all of the things I’m so grateful for.

Almost every night, since April, I’ve been writing in my Journal at least three things I’m grateful for.  Some days it’s easier than others but I can always find something – and it gets easier the more you do it because then being grateful becomes a habit, just like anything you practice regularly.  The very first one I wrote was ‘I am grateful for being able to relax all morning in bed.’ I’ve also written things like being grateful for a text from a friend asking how I am, for sitting outside in the sun, for a beautiful flower in the garden, for a friend taking the kids out, for my husband cooking me dinner, the internet for keeping me in touch with people when I can’t get out and see them much, for feeling the grass under my feet. And so much more. You get the picture.

But you don’t have to be recovering from an illness to get grateful.  And you might be thinking what has got gratitude got to do with anxiety? According to people that know about these things, it’s impossible for the brain to feel gratitude and anxiety at the same time. And I know it works.  A couple of days ago I watched the trailer for what I think will be an amazing film, called UNrest.  It’s been made by an absolutely inspirational woman who has Chronic Fatigue/ M.E and will hopefully open people’s eyes to the illness.  However, in the comments underneath the trailer there were a huge number of people talking about how ill they are, how long they’ve been ill for and that there’s no hope of them getting better. I usually steer well clear of anything like that and am only a member of forums that are full of positive people working on recovering.  So it threw me a bit and I could feel myself starting to think anxious thoughts, like maybe I’m kidding myself that I’ll recover.  Luckily I’ve learned that kind of thinking isn’t helpful, and that it’s possible to change my thoughts (something I used to think I had no control over – I was so wrong!) so I knew I needed to stop myself. Having learnt so much about gratitude I knew that’s what I needed to do to turn my thoughts around.

So I decided to get grateful about everything that’s been positive about having CFS. You’d think there’s nothing, right? Well a while back I’d have thought the same. But I pretty quickly came up with a number of things I’m grateful to CFS for – like the fact I’ve had to slow down and learn to relax, which means I’m  WAY less stressed than I used to be, which isn’t just good for me but also for my husband and kids.  Like discovering a love of painting and writing this blog.  And other things I think I’ve gone on about before. But as soon as I started thinking gratefully I forgot all about being anxious and I went straight back into a positive mindset. If I’d let myself carry on with my pointless anxious thoughts, they’d have ended up spiralling.  But I caught them early on when it’s still possible to think rationally and make a conscious decision to change my thinking.

No matter what you’re going through, there’s always something to be grateful for, even if you have to look pretty hard some days. But isn’t it potentially life-changing to know that you have the power to change your thoughts? I’m not saying I’m now ‘cured’ of all anxiety, but that’s never been my goal. It’s to change the relationship to anxiety, and be able to control it rather than have it control me. How powerful is that?!

Hazel x

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