March 28, 2014

The Answer to Anxiety. ~ Clare Woodward

gratitude 2

I posted one of Danielle LaPorte’s Truthbombs the other week. It was well received, and a simple message: Interrupt anxiety with gratitude.

It’s said that anxiety is worrying about the future—that desperate feeling of not being in control. It’s the sickening anticipation of “what if?” looming around every corner.

For me anxiety presents as a tightening in the chest, a heavy fluttering in the gut, a swirling of the mind—worse case scenarios dominating everything I do. It’s both debilitating and paralyzing. Anxiety is the pits. It affects sleep, motivation levels, and commitment to follow through. It prevents us from living life to the fullest.

Enter the truthbomb: Interrupt anxiety with gratitude. Could it really be that simple?


This is not to take away from what I know the intensity of anxiety to be; however I think the basis of moving on from anxiety truly starts with gratitude.

Gratitude is the foundation.

It’s easy to be grateful, but in order for it be the foundation I believe we need to view all of life’s offerings with total gratitude—even the less than good stuff. At first, choosing to participate in life this way can seem a bit arduous—it’s much easier to go back to our habit of being anxious. But eventually, our gratitude muscle grows stronger and before we know it, being grateful is an unconscious decision.

It infiltrates our cells, our bloodstream, our essence, our way of being in the world.

How does this happen?

Well, we’ve already looked at the downsides of anxiety. So let’s focus on what gratitude does for a person.

From a scientific perspective, gratitude directly activates the delicious dopamine neurotransmitter, also known as the reward neurotransmitter—a pleasure chemical. It’s very simple—humans like the feeling of being rewarded. We like this chemical swirling through our brains, because when this chemical is active, we experience the following things:

A more optimistic outlook

Increased determination and motivation

Greater levels of empathy and compassion (and not just for others but for ourselves)

More sound sleep

A stronger immune system

By being grateful and consciously activating this chemical, we become wired to see and experience life in a more pleasurable way.

Because the brain can’t easily focus on both negative and positive stimuli simultaneously, focusing on those things we are grateful for makes it more difficult to focus on those things we are anxious about.

So, how do we become consciously less anxious?

We commit to a practice of gratitude. We ensure that with each day that passes we spend time tuning in and giving thanks.

We can be grateful:

1) When we’re in the shower. Rather than mulling over the day, or attempting to anticipate the day ahead we can focus attention on what we’re grateful for instead. As soon as our attention diverts to ‘what if?’ bring the thoughts back to something we can be grateful for.

2) Throughout the day, marveling at the miracle that is this experience and all it has to offer. In our head (or out loud where appropriate) we can say thank you to the bus driver, the colleague sitting opposite us, our partner, our children, the barista.

From the food on our plate and all that has happened to get it there to the fresh clean water we have to drink. Even funny memories from the weekend—everything and anything, there is always something for which we can be grateful.

3) Write someone a letter, an email, or a text saying thank you, telling them why we are grateful they’re in our lives.

4) When we sit around the dinner table with our family or flatmates, we can invite each person to say what they’re thankful for from the day.

5) Have a gratitude journal by the bed. Write three things (or more) for which we are grateful at the end of each day.

6) Keep a gratitude jar. Jot down things on a post-it we are grateful for and pop them in the jar. Call on these little notes when anxiety invites itself in.

7) Keep a pebble, a crystal, a talisman somewhere within reach. In a pocket, on the desk, in the car console. Each time we see it, we can be reminded of what we are grateful for.

8) Set an alarm on the phone for random times throughout the day. When it goes off, tune into what we’re grateful for.

With each of these activities, we can take the time to be specific with our thanks. Sit in the juiciness of that specific thought and feeling, allowing those dopamine chemicals to activate.

If we can get into these simple yet powerful practices, we are able to watch our anxiety dissipate. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does take place—I know so because I’ve done it.

I invite you to be grateful with me, right now.


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Photo: elephant archives

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