Back in September of 2017, I was dealing with shit-ton of anxiety. I have general anxiety and panic disorder, so anxiety is kind of a given for me. But during this period of time, things were particularly intense. I was having some ongoing, heated conflicts with my parents; my husband was dealing with unprecedented stress from his job and bringing it home; and financial woes seemed to be an everyday occurrence for me and my family.
As I was discussing all this with my therapist, she suggested something that I had never considered before, especially as an antidote to anxiety. “Why don’t you start a gratitude journal?” she said. “Nothing fancy, just write down a little something you feel grateful for each day.”
I had heard about the benefits of practicing gratitude – how it can lower stress, boost your mood, and even help you sleep better. But when my therapist suggested it, I thought it was kind of a silly idea at first.
As much of a wreck as I can be at times, I think of myself as someone who is generally pretty grateful for all she has. But I realized, at the same time, that as someone who tends toward anxiety, I do often dwell on the negative – the idea that at any time, the worst possible thing could happen.
I was also a little concerned about the time commitment. Part of what was overwhelming me then was my endless to-do list. I didn’t need an additional freaking thing to add to it. But I took my therapist’s advice to heart, and realized that jotting something down each day really should only take a few seconds.
In truth, there are no hard rules for keeping a gratitude journal. You can do it on paper, on your computer, or on your phone. You can do it daily, just a few times a week, or just whenever you feel inspired.
I decided to aim for daily, and I suspected that I’d be most successful if I did it via an app on my phone. I quickly found that there were a ton of gratitude journaling apps out there. I ruled out anything fancy or complicated. I didn’t want specific prompts or extensive activities. Just an app I would open and briefly record a few words about what I felt grateful for that day.
The winning app for me was called Simple Gratitude Journal – and it was just that, as simple as could be. Every day, the app asked me the question “What are you grateful for today?” and I filled it right in.
I ended up using the app and recording my thoughts of gratitude for almost a year. It definitely wasn’t daily. There were days I forgot, especially when I was out of routine. But for the most part, I showed up for that little app on a daily basis and thought of something to write down.
Sometimes I literally wrote down one word, like the name of someone I felt gratitude for (or, let’s be honest, a delicious food I’d eaten that made me happy to be alive). Sometimes, on a darker day, I really had to stretch to find something to be grateful for, but I ended up learning some of the most valuable lessons then. On those days, I found myself realizing that just getting out of bed and facing my life was something to be abundantly grateful for.
Here’s a snapshot of a few days of gratitude from my journal. You can see that it wasn’t necessarily the big, glittery moments or concepts that I felt grateful for – and that sometimes I was just grateful to myself for showing up.
An ever-growing feeling of self-love was one of the more surprising benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. Like I said, I already knew I felt grateful for my friends and family, but I realized that I didn’t always value myself.
Keeping my little gratitude journal showed me that I had the strength and tenacity to get through even the most awful days. And it was that sense of self-love and empowerment that actually helped alleviate some of my anxiety – the idea that, yes, many things are out of my control, but I have more courage and fortitude than I realize.
I stopped keeping the gratitude journal at the end of last summer. There was no concrete reason for that – it just fell by the wayside like some things do. Looking back through my year of gratitude as I wrote this article was really eye-opening for me, and I’m grateful (see, there it is again!) to have a record of all the things I recorded that year.
It’s a testament that there can be a richness and an undercurrent of goodness throughout one’s life, no matter what else if going on. A great life lesson I learned then, and even now, as I look back.
If you are thinking of starting a gratitude journal of your own, I urge you to go ahead and do it. Make it as simple and easy for yourself as possible. Don’t think too much about it. Just jot down the first thing that comes to mind each day and then put it away.
I promise you’ll find yourself appreciating your life (and yourself!) a little more, breathing a little easier, and letting go of your stresses and worries one by one. It’s truly an amazing thing.