With the current challenges of daily living, I’ve grown to appreciate my gratitude practice even more. Every small joy makes a difference, and creating my daily list helps me to be mindful, stay present, and monitor my anxiety.
Gratitude Brings Me Back to the Moment
Eighteen years ago, my first Overeater’s Anonymous sponsor suggested that I keep a gratitude journal, and I listened. I had heard Oprah Winfrey discuss how powerful keeping a gratitude journal could be, but I had thought she was exaggerating.
She wasn’t. And there’s a lot of research to back up her claim. The payoff goes far beyond the five minutes or less it takes to jot down several things that happened each day for which I am grateful. This practice shifts my focus throughout the day to notice the little things that bring me joy. Even if that feeling of joy is fleeting, it relaxes me by connecting me to the moment.
Although no one in my immediate family has fallen ill during this global health crisis, it has greatly impacted me in a number of ways. My gratitude journal is a daily tool I use to help chase away anxiety and keep me grounded. It also helps keep mild symptoms of depression—such as negative self-talk—from escalating.
Here are some of my favorite things and moments for which I am grateful.
“I need some volunteer hours for my health project. Can you supervise me at the animal shelter Saturday,” my daughter sweetly asked me four years ago.
Our second Saturday there, she kept returning to this one cage in which a small, copper-colored dog would sit perfectly at attention and stare inquisitively at us.
“Mom, look. He likes us,” my daughter said excitedly.
One week later, Charlie, a one-year-old mostly Tibetan Spaniel, was part of the family. Since this health crisis began, my world has become so much smaller, and I could not imagine life without Charlie. He’s my companion on walks and on runs. He’s my ticket to the nearby two-acre dog park, which represents my social life during this period of physical distancing. It’s easy to socially distance there, and we get to walk and be around others, safely, in the fresh air.
I am so grateful to live in a neighborhood that affords me a variety of destinations within walking distance. I grew up in neighborhoods in which you could walk to parks, friends’ homes, the grocery store, and all kinds of places. Somehow, walking doesn’t seem as boring when you can accomplish an errand while doing it.
On election night, my chest was tight with anxiety. Needing a break from watching the news coverage, I took Charlie for a walk. As we approached a nearby park, I caught sight of some college students playing basketball in the public court. They were illuminated by streetlights, and watching them run, jump, and pivot made my entire body smile. Their joy was contagious. They reminded me of how much fun recreational sports can be.
Exercise benefits me in a number of ways, but walking relaxes me. It’s as if I shed a little stress with each step. And if I’m in the middle of a writing project, ideas come to me as I walk.
Riding my bicycle just over two miles through a bike path and fairly secluded residential streets lands me at LocalHarvest Farmers’ Market. Once there, I head to my favorite stall. The sight of the many colors and shapes of fresh fruit and vegetables delights me. I cram containers of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and multicolored cherry tomatoes into my backpack for the ride home. The booty lasts my daughter and me an entire week.
One of my favorite snacks is made possible by the local farmers’ market. I combine crushed pecans, strawberries, raspberries, and two tiny squares of 85% dark chocolate broken into bits. Fifteen seconds in the microwave softens the dark chocolate just enough that it slowly spreads its distinct, bittersweet flavor onto the nuts and fruit.
I am grateful that my son taught me to appreciate baseball and turned me into a Clayton Kershaw and Los Angeles Dodgers fan. After a 32-year drought, the Dodgers won the World Series on October 27. After ten minutes of dynamic stretching, I was able to celebrate by turning cartwheels!
Most of my childhood was spent in different neighborhoods within New York City. However, cartwheels are something I taught myself as a child when living in a Midwestern town. Every time I turn a cartwheel, it takes me back to that carefree part of my childhood while living in that small town. Turning cartwheels is way more fun than doing push-ups or lifting weights! It provides upper-body resistance and stretches your entire body.
When the first lockdown began in March, I started sharing office space with a refrigerator. Sometime in June, I got the courage to step on a scale and discovered I had gained 10 pounds in three months.
I’m grateful that I didn’t attempt a crash diet, which has the potential to trigger hypomania, and instead simply started tracking my food and figuring out what tweaks I needed to make so I’d feel hungry and I could eat a little less. I lost those 10 pounds just in time to be able to turn cartwheels without ending up in Urgent Care.
Bit of Beach
One of my favorite stretches of beach is only a four-mile bicycle ride away from where I live. My toes touch the sand as I head toward the ocean, and I notice an occasional wildflower poking through the sand. Watching the waves break and listening to the sound of the surf makes me feel very alive.
The Power of Gratitude with Bipolar
Bipolar is a chronic condition that plays out differently in different people. I’m grateful that I have been in remission for a long time, but that is in great part from learning how to use a variety of tools to monitor my anxiety level and keep depression from escalating. Making a daily gratitude list is easy and effective for achieving just that. And, this time of year, even with the challenges we all face, gratitude feels all the more important and helpful.
What are you grateful for? Do you keep a gratitude journal? How has it influenced your mindset and/or your bipolar management?
Sasha Kildare, a feature writer, speaker, and educator, is also the author of the upcoming memoir and information guide Intact: Untangle the Web of Bipolar Depression, Addiction, and Trauma. Her blogs about storytelling can be found at DrivenToTellStories.com, and you can find her on Twitter @sashakildare and Instagram @sashakildare562.
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