Happy Sunday, Friends!
I just took a batch of Whole Grain Oat Muffins out of the oven and am impatiently waiting for them to cool! While I was mixing the batter, I was reflecting on the gratitude journey that I started 13 days ago. I feel strongly that the biggest component to our overall health, is our mental health and happiness. When you feel happy, you feel good! You feel energized and productive, and you’re more likely to make positive choices, like eating healthy and getting your exercise.
When you’re feeling down, depressed and miserable, you’re less likely to have energy or motivation to be active. You’re also more likely to eat junk food as a way to self-medicate. So I think the best place to start for overall health, is actually with your mental health, which is why I wanted to include this update on gratitude journaling as a health post.
Those of you who haven’t known me personally over the years don’t know that I spent years struggling with situational depression and social anxiety. Situational depression, the term that my counselor used with me, is when depression is based on a specific event, or situation, in your past that’s sort of stunted your emotional growth around that time, rather than a chemical imbalance that would be treated with medication.
So for my situational depression, I spent six sessions with a counselor, who was able to pinpoint within the first 10 minutes of my first session, exactly what was causing my depressed mood and anxiety. For me it was based on a string of events that were centered around my parents’ divorce (a HUGE reason why I bust my butt so much to make the best choices I can for my own children).
Literally the moment I knew where my depression was coming from, it was like a shadow was lifted from around me and I was walking in the sunshine again. We spent time working through the different events, and once I dealt with it the fog was gone and I haven’t had any issues with depression again since. Essentially my emotional health was stunted at the age of 12-13, the age I was when my parents divorced (an awkward age of uncertainty, which explained my social anxiety), and once I dealt with everything the right way, I fast-forwarded 17-18 years to my then-30-year-old self. I stopped living in the past, always feeling like I was lost and searching for something, and was finally able to feel content and happy with where I was in life.
Anyhow, that is when my healthy lifestyle journey really took off! Because I moved beyond just healthy eating (which is something that began when my grandmother was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, and I will discuss further in my upcoming post about how I crash-landed into the Mediterranean Diet spectrum), and became wholly healthy; mind, body and spirit.
Ok, time out…these muffins are amazing!! If you want to try the recipe, I used this one from Brown Eyed Baker, added a little extra cinnamon and some walnuts and chia seeds. Holy YUM!
Something that always makes for an emotional struggle is stress. This year, since day one in January, has just been a landslide of irritating events that have skyrocketed my stress level. No matter how positive and happy we are, we cannot avoid stressors and unpleasant events. Sometimes things just happen to us that we can’t avoid and have no choice but to work through. Since it seems that 2018 has its goal set to challenge me as much as possible, I decided to start a daily gratitude journal to combat the stressors. That’s right, 2018 – bring it on!
Today is day 13, which means I have 12 evenings of gratitude entries under my belt. I will admit that some days it’s tough to find five things to be grateful for. This is mainly because my weekdays pretty much all look the same – get up at 6 a.m., spend nine hours gone at work, come home and make dinner and have family time with my kiddos, shower and go to bed at 9:30.
The key is to look for the little things. Something as simple as a conversation with a bank customer that made me laugh. Or the fact that it was sunny after days and days of rain! Or maybe that it was a slow day where I didn’t feel swamped or overwhelmed with a ton of things that needed done at the same time. What I’ve noticed by looking for these little things to be grateful for, is that my perspective has shifted. And really, that is the whole point of gratitude journaling.
It forces you to change your focus from the tough things that are happening, to the positive things that are going on in spite of them. Even though I’ve had some challenges to deal with, my heart is light and I feel good. The hard things aren’t consuming my mind and weighing me down like they normally do. I’m one of those people that has to take action to fix whatever is wrong before I can let it go, so things tend to dwell on my mind until they’re resolved. Gratitude journaling seems to be remedying that, even in just under two weeks!
Just having that shift in focus keeps me motivated and empowered. It keeps me feeling positive about seeing resolutions through to the end. And staying focused, rather than letting your mind spiral down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts, keeps the stress away, which in turn keeps the junk food cravings away and keeps you feeling active. I don’t really have an end date in mind for gratitude journaling, and honestly it is something that I may just continue doing every single day.
If this is something you think you might want to do to help give your own mental health a little boost, there are tons of ways to go about it!
1. Buy a journal! It can be a journal, a blank notebook (this is what I used because we had one laying around), or even a specific gratitude journal with written prompts and questions to answer.
2. Schedule your time. Pick a time of day to do your writing. I recommend the evening, so you can select things from that actual day to write about. I do mine last thing before I turn out the lights at bedtime.
3. Select your method. This kind of ties in to number one above. You can use a journal with prompts, you can look up prompts online to write your own…there a lot of different ways to do this, so just do what feels best for you. For me, I chose Oprah Winfrey’s method: I write down five things that happened that day that I’m grateful for.
If you have a gratitude journal, or want to start one, I would love to hear about it! I always love new ideas and perspectives. I hope you have a fabulous Sunday and stress-free week!