Attitude and Stress~The choice is yours

Sicilian god cultivating a plant

Attitude and stress have an interesting interaction. We often feel justified in feeling upset or resentful when stress is high, but research suggests that cultivating a more positive attitude may be more beneficial to our physical and mental health.

Bad-itude or Gr-attitude?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary resentment is “an indignant sense of injury or insult received or perceived, a sense of grievance; (a feeling of) ill will, bitterness, or anger against a person or thing.” It defines gratitude as “the quality or condition of being grateful or thankful; the appreciation of an inclination to return kindness; gratefulness.” Choosing gratitude over resentment is a choice that leads to more benefit both for you and those around you.

Okay so what’s the point?

When we cultivate gratitude our bodies respond by increasing our subjective sense of well-being likely through activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that induces calm). When we are grateful we have lower heart rate, better immune response, and a higher sense of positive well-being. Conversely when we are resentful our heart rate increases, our immune system struggles, and we have higher tension which in turn increases our feelings of anger or bitterness toward the world. Check out this article in psychology today which talks about the benefits of gratitude.

Can I really choose?

Yes, you really can choose gratitude over resentment. There will always be situations that increase our stress, but we can choose to get mired in the negative aspects or focus more on the positive parts of our lives. This may mean letting go of hurt and identifying where things are going right in our lives. While the driver that cut you off in traffic this morning can increase your resentment in the moment, holding on to that is a choice. When you look at the whole of your life that momentary hurt doesn’t amount to much, but when you hold on to that throughout the day you are doing damage to yourself and possibly those around you.

For the most part it’s up to you

I’m not suggesting that you ignore injustice or harm, but much of what stresses us out in the day to day isn’t about world peace or even what’s happening in much of the world. Typically it’s about things in our lives much closer in. What I call “toothpaste issues.” If you are prone to resentment you can choose to make a shift. This won’t happen over night, but as you consciously choose to focus more on the positive over time you will notice a shift. Most of the time making that shift is about looking at what can be done about what irks us and then taking action or choosing to let it go. If you want to take a deeper dive into changing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors check out a previous post here.

Choosing Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude creates an attitude that will decrease your stress. Start creating a more positive attitude by:

  • Thanking people
    • Taking time to say thank you to those you interact with is a powerful way to step into gratitude.
      • Thank everyone from the neighbor who shoveled your walk to the cashier at the store.
      • This helps to cultivate positivity.
    • I have been amazed at the number of people who are genuinely touched when thanked.
  • Keeping a journal of gratitude
    • Take note of things that you are grateful for , review the list, and add to it regularly.
    • This activity can help you realize on a difficult day that all is not bleak.
  • Letting go
    • Taking time to let go of old hurt is a great step toward unburdening yourself.
    • Holding on to hurt is not the same as holding others accountable.
    • Holding onto hurt only makes you miserable.
    • Letting it go helps you feel lighter and happier.

How can you start cultivating gratitude today?

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Please a comment about what you’d like to see more (or less) of as we move into the new year.
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