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By Brianna Connors and Lillian Myers

How being thankful during a pandemic can actually keep you healthy

Traditionally, November is a time of thankfulness, of gathering together with individuals we care about. For years to date, many have approached November with hearts filled with a little extra joy because no matter what happened the day before, we could come together and enjoy good food, fellowship, and hopefully a day of rest. Something everyone requires. However, this year, our festivities look much different. 

For most of this year, we have faced never before seen conditions due to the global spread of COVID-19. There is not one household that has not felt the touch of COVID or the effects of pandemic restrictions. Families lost loved ones, individuals lost jobs, and, as a whole, society lost much of what it took for granted. As a result, it has been, for many, one of the hardest and strangest years to live through. And there is no doubt that this has affected us in more ways than one, especially when it comes to the spirit of thankfulness. 

However, as many medical industry experts have pointed out, it is important now more than ever before to focus on being thankful for what we do have. Not only does this help calm rampant feelings of stress or uncertainty, but it has also been proven to boost one’s physical and mental health. That’s right. Being thankful is good for your health!

According to the American Heart Association, feelings of negativity and worry can lead to depression and are connected to poor heart health, inflammation, and a weak immune system. On the other hand, research shows that exercising a spirit of gratitude (or thankfulness) can have long-term effects on one’s life. Lowering blood pressure or improving the immune system, for example. The National Alliance on Mental Health reports that not only does gratitude lessen depression and boost self-esteem, but that it can also help reduce anxiety and substance abuse. With this in mind, here are some helpful ways in which to begin practicing a spirit of thankfulness as we approach a holiday season that will unsurprisingly feel much different than previous holidays.

  • Write Down Things You’reYou’re Thankful For
  • Count Blessings Instead of Sheep
  • Enjoy The Little Moments
  • Stay Connected

Write Down Things You’reYou’re Thankful For

While it may seem like there aren’t many things to be thankful for right now, this exercise can be greatly illuminating in recognizing those you do have. You can start by sitting down and beginning to list things such as: 

Something to do with your health: Even if you are struggling with an illness or physical disability, were you able to walk today? Are you able to wiggle your toes or fingers? Can your ears hear music? Can your eyes watch the sunset? 

Something to do with money: Despite the financial strains this year has delivered to many peoples’ doorsteps, there are still financial aspects to be thankful for. Were you able to eat today? Did you splurge a little and buy a Starbucks coffee? Are you able to buy a Christmas present for a loved one? 

Something to do with relationships: Social interaction is integral to our well-being, as many studies and research have proven. Even though we may not have spent as much quality time with our loved ones as in previous years, we can still find reasons to be thankful for relationships. Did you talk on the phone with a friend today? Did you get a text from your mom, dad, or sibling? 

Something to do with technology: Due to lockdowns and social distancing, many families, friends, coworkers, and peers have been forced to isolate themselves and forego social interaction, at least in person. However, these limitations have given rise to innovations such as Zoom, Facebook, and Parler, helping us stay connected, continuing in online education, or even working remotely. 

Something that you are looking forward to: This year will not last forever, and neither will lockdowns or strict social distancing. As a result, it is imperative that we look ahead as both individuals and as a society. As George Burns, comedian, actor, singer, and writer, famously said, “I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.” 

Count Blessings Instead of Sheep

Researchers at the University of Manchester in England conducted a study looking at how gratitude may affect a person’s sleep. The study concluded that gratitude was linked to more positive thoughts and falling asleep faster for a longer, better sleep period. 

Enjoy The Little Moments

While there is no doubt that people find great joy in the extraordinary moments of life, it is important to find value within the smaller, more ordinary moments. Research has shown that as people age, they tend to find more happiness from these little ordinary experiences. This suggests that while big accomplishments and other extraordinary experiences contribute to our overall satisfaction with life, we find more value from the everyday joys. Therefore, why wait to find happiness in the little things? 

As our lives continue to be rocked by the pandemic’s effect, it is the perfect opportunity to turn our focus to the minor joys. By training ourselves to enjoy the little moments in life, we are ultimately setting ourselves up to find more happiness. Which, in turn, will prevent illnesses and increase longevity. By increasing our ability to enjoy the simplicities of everyday life, we are ultimately increasing our ability to enjoy our overall life. 

Stay Connected

One of the joys of the holiday season is connecting with family and friends; it is something we look forward to with the winter months’ approach. However, as social distancing continues, we are all facing heightened feelings of loneliness and separation. 

A meta-analysis covering seventy-seven thousand cases discovered the implications of loneliness on an individual’s mortality. It found that our loneliness can ultimately decrease our lives’ length, similar to that of already well-established risk factors for mortality. This is why staying connected during such a period of separation is vital to our overall well-being and longevity. 

Connection is made possible because of all the different platforms we have at our fingertips. Various social media sites, forms of digital communication, and apps like Zoom are all tools that we can use to push loneliness away. We must use what we have to sustain connections through this greatly separated time. When it comes to staying connected, here are a few different ways you can engage across any distance:

Use social media platforms: We truly are living in a world of innovation and opportunities. A mere fifty years ago, it was not possible for someone to upload a picture onto social media and instantly receive comments on it from people around the world. Through platforms like Facebook and Parler, it is possible to stay up-to-date on friends, family, and people of interest in real-time – a great way to remain actively connected to community. 

Venture beyond social media: While it is possible to form meaningful and long-lasting connections through the various social media platforms, it is incredibly important to move valued relationships past this stage. Move on to phone calls or video calls where you can hear the tone of voice and inflection of words, a crucial part of communicating that is lost online. Social media is great, but connections are better sustained over calls. 

Plan family or friend zoom nights: Because we cannot gather together in large groups, we should be using the tools we have to replicate gatherings to the best of our ability. Fun activities, book clubs, or even traditional holiday events like Thanksgiving Dinner can all be moved onto places like Zoom and still shared.

Take the time to write snail mail: A fun and relaxing way to end the day or week is to take the time to write a letter. When was the last time you sat down with pen and paper and actually wrote to someone you loved? There’s something so beautifully personal about receiving a letter. 

As we enter into this Thanksgiving and Holiday season, set aside time to find a quiet spot with your favorite chair and write out what you are thankful for. Put down on paper the things that have kept you going during the pandemic. Start with the smallest thing you can think of, such as the comfort of fuzzy socks or the way leaves crunch under your feet, and then keep going. While it might be hard to look for the good in a life filled with so much confusion, it is vital to find at least one thing you can be thankful for every day. As the studies and research listed above have shown, thankfulness is good for your health and, as a result, should be a necessity for daily life. While we may not be able to celebrate Thanksgiving in the ways we normally do, we can still celebrate this holiday season by internalizing the spirit of thankfulness and finding joy in the simplicities. COVID may have taken over much of our lives this year, but we cannot allow it to take over our spirit and trap us within bitterness or negative thoughts. We might be stuck in a global pandemic, but we will always have something to be thankful for.  

Citations: 

Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501 

LISA F. BERKMAN, S. LEONARD SYME, SOCIAL NETWORKS, HOST RESISTANCE, AND MORTALITY: A NINE-YEAR FOLLOW-UP STUDY OF ALAMEDA COUNTY RESIDENTS, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 109, Issue 2, February 1979, Pages 186–204, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a112674

Wood AM, Joseph S, Lloyd J, Atkins S. Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. J Psychosom Res. 2009 Jan;66(1):43-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.09.002. Epub 2008 Nov 22. PMID: 19073292. 

Amit Bhattacharjee, Cassie Mogilner, Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 41, Issue 1, 1 June 2014, Pages 1–17, https://doi.org/10.1086/674724

R, V. (2008). Healthy happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(3), 449–469. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-006-9042-1 

Rico-Uribe LA, Caballero FF, Martín-María N, Cabello M, Ayuso-Mateos JL, et al. (2018) Association of loneliness with all-cause mortality: A meta-analysis. PLOS ONE 13(1): e0190033. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190033

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227–237. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691614568352

Brianna Connors
Brianna Connors