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Five Easy Gratitude Practices for Caregivers

Updated: Dec 27, 2023


A steaming cup of tea, journal, pen, and a flower.

Caring for a loved one with a debilitating chronic illness is filled with challenges, uncertainties, and emotional ups and downs. Amid these difficulties, the concept of gratitude may seem elusive. However, delving into the essence of gratitude reveals its profound ability to transform the caregiver experience. Let's explore the importance of gratitude, its impact on caregiver well-being, and practical ways to integrate gratitude into your daily life.

Understanding Gratitude in Caregiving

Gratitude is more than a fleeting emotion. It is a deliberate and conscious practice of recognizing and appreciating the positive aspects of life. In the context of caregiving, gratitude involves acknowledging the goodness that exists, despite the challenges. It is an intentional shift from a focus on lack and hardship to an appreciation of the positive and things that people often take for granted. By incorporating gratitude into your caregiving journey, you are nurturing your own well-being plus creating a positive ripple effect for both you and your loved one.

The Science of Gratitude

Many research studies have covered the tangible benefits of practicing gratitude, which has been linked to stronger emotional and physical health. Studies on the emotional health benefits of gratitude have shown it reduces stress, improves patience, establishes a stronger positive outlook, improves resilience in the face of adversity, and helps battle depression. Physical health benefits include more peaceful sleep, lower blood pressure, immune system strengthening, pain tolerance improvement, and reduction of inflammation biomarkers.

Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and one of the world’s leading experts on the science of gratitude, defines gratitude as having two parts. "The first is an affirmation of goodness: People can learn to wake up to the good around them and notice the gifts they have received. The second part of gratitude is recognizing that the source of this goodness rests outside of oneself—that we receive these gifts from other people, and sometimes from a higher power, fate, or the natural world," according to Mindful magazine.

Reflecting on the Past Year: A Gratitude Exercise

Take a moment to reflect on the past year. Identify and contemplate the top three things you are grateful for. Delve into the specifics of each experience and explore the sensations associated with them. This exercise serves as a foundation for recognizing the often-overlooked positive aspects of your caregiving journey. For example:

  1. Identify Sources of Support: Have you found or deepened your connections with a supportive community (like a support group), a podcast, a helpful app, or a small yet significant ritual that brings you comfort (like savoring a cup of tea)?

  2. Acknowledge Your Loved One's Health: Despite the challenges, perhaps you can find gratitude in the health your loved one still possesses, recognizing that the situation could be more challenging than it is right now. As many of you know, the health condition of our loved ones with debilitating chronic illnesses like ME/CFS, Long COVID, and Chronic Lyme is like a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs over the months and years. Also, consider the strength they exhibit in the face of adversity.

  3. Appreciate Life's Essentials: Reflect on the fundamental aspects of life—having a roof over your head, food on the table, and clean air to breathe. Gratitude often flourishes in the seemingly simple yet profound elements of daily living.

Cultivating Gratitude Daily: Practical Strategies

  1. Gratitude Journaling: Dedicate a few minutes each day to journaling about 1-3 things you are grateful for. Be specific, and let your reflections capture the richness of the positive moments, no matter how small. Studies have shown that writing down details of positive experiences can help condition your brain to be more appreciative of the things you have to be grateful for. To help get you started, here's a list of 100 gratitude prompts from Dr. Joel Wong, a professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University's School of Education.

  2. Use Visual Reminders: The simple act of taking photos with your phone of things you appreciate helps you visualize and reinforce gratitude. The photos could be of nature outside your front door, your pets, or kids. You can keep the photos as your computer screensaver, print them out and frame them, or just favorite them on your phone and scroll through them once in a while. These bring me joy when I'm stressed out.

  3. Expressing Gratitude: Take the time to express your gratitude to those around you. Share your appreciation with family, friends, the grocery store cashier, and others we encounter. We can start by saying "thank you" to small but meaningful acts we notice. This act of expressing gratitude creates a sense of connection and mutual support.

  4. Give Thanks Before Eating a Meal: Thanking whomever you believe in, whether that be the universe, God, spiritual guides, or even yourself for a meal can shift your focus. There's a Japanese tradition to say thank you and put your hands together in appreciation before each meal to offer gratitude to everything and everyone involved in the meal—from the sun, water, and farmer who grew the rice, to the shopkeeper who sold the rice, to the cook who prepared it. It's giving thanks to all the many conditions that have come together to produce the meal that gives you sustenance.

  5. Gratitude Rituals: Establish rituals that serve as reminders to focus on gratitude. This could be a daily moment of quiet reflection, a gratitude jar where you deposit notes of appreciation, or a specific time each day dedicated to expressing gratitude. For more ideas, here's a list of 23 gratitude practices to try.

Embracing Gratitude as a Lifeline

In the complex landscape of chronic illness caregiving, gratitude emerges as a powerful tool—a lifeline that can guide you through the challenges and uncertainties. By cultivating gratitude, you are not denying the difficulties of your journey but rather choosing to illuminate the positive aspects that coexist. Embrace gratitude as a daily practice, savoring the richness of the present, and let it be a source of strength, resilience, and well-being as you continue to navigate your path of caregiving. What are some gratitude practices you can adopt today?

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