It seems easier said than done, but expressing gratitude every day may be key in reducing stress at work. It’s not an easy thing to do because when we’re faced with so much workload, our automatic reaction is to complain or go into fight-or-flight mode. But there is a way around it, and it starts with finetuning our minds with thoughts of gratitude every day.
Gratitude is the act of saying thanks for people, things, or events in our life that we value and give importance to. We can give thanks for things in the past such as positive memories, elements of our childhood, or previous blessings we’ve received. We can be thankful for the present and remember that we should not take life for granted. And we can be grateful for the near future as we maintain an optimistic and hopeful attitude. Whatever the level of gratitude you have, you can cultivate it further through different means. When we express gratitude, there is a higher chance for us to nurture our relationships with others, which helps us become closer to friends and romantic partners.
Expressing gratitude eases stress at work
Two different studies proved that expressing gratitude is helpful in easing stress.
The first study focused on measuring the stress levels of university suitemates who were acquainted but not close, which researchers thought would mimic the relationships of people at work or loose ties. One student in each pair was assigned as the expresser while the other was the receiver. Some expressers were told to begin a conversation by sharing something about their day while others shared something they appreciated about their partner. Some expressers expressed small things such as how a partner ran an errand for them one time, while others expressed big things such as how a partner switched around a class schedule to accommodate them.
After the conversation, the students reported how grateful they felt. And then, researchers gave the students the task of collaborating on creating a new bicycle design, a market plan, and a sales pitch – in only six minutes. Each member of the pair was given just three minutes to pitch their product to evaluators. The students were told there was a competition as to who gave the best product pitch, so they were motivated to do well in these challenging and stressful situations. As the experiments unfolded, the researchers monitored the participants’ cardiovascular responses.
The first study revealed that those in the gratitude pairs had superior stress profiles. Their hearts pumped out more blood and their vasculature were more dilated, which allowed more oxygen to reach their brains and bodies. Meanwhile, those who only shared something about their day showed stronger threat responses under pressure, which suggested they had worse profiles for stress management.
Christopher Oveis, director of the Empathy & Emotion Lab at the University of California, San Diego and one of the researchers of the study, said that no one knows exactly why gratitude affects our cardiovascular system this way. But he says that gratitude makes people remember their social resources, which might be helpful in social situations.
“Expressing gratitude can psychologically buffer us against the threatening effects of social evaluation by reminding us that we are valued by others,” Oveis said.
The second study was conducted by Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami and Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis. They asked all participants to write a few sentences every week. The first group focused on writing about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. The second group wrote about things that irritated them or displeased them. The last group wrote about things that had affected them but had no emphasis on whether it was positive or negative. After 10 weeks, researchers found that those who wrote about gratitude became more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor than those who focused on their aggravations.
Ways to express gratitude every day
Expressing gratitude is a way to help people refocus on what they have and not on what they lack. Although it may feel contrived at first, expressing gratitude grows stronger with use and practise.
- Pause and reflect on your blessings. When you find yourself in a state of worry or when you’re hyperfocused on things that are not working around you, pause for a second and ask yourself: what opportunities do I currently have that I am grateful for? What physical abilities do I have but take for granted? What are three things I am grateful for right now? Who is a person that I don’t talk to often but if I lost them tomorrow, it would be devastating?
- Write a gratitude journal. Start and end your day with thoughts of gratitude. Write one paragraph daily about one thing for which you’re truly grateful for and why that thing is meaningful to you. Focus your mind on things that matter such as your family, friends, passions, thereby reminding yourself that although there is much to worry about in this world, there is also so much to be grateful for.
- Write a thank-you note. You can thank another person today through a thank-you note or email. Express your appreciation of this person’s impact on your life. Make it a habit to send one every month. Send one to yourself as well.
- Build your gratitude machine like a routine. Create a ritual around expressing gratitude. For instance, during meetings, you can also start and end it with a grateful minute. Invite a few team members to share their answers to the questions above.
Hardwiring your brain into thinking positive thoughts is difficult, but it can be done. Expressing gratitude may help us cope in this stressful world, and make the load we carry lighter than before.