It may seem counterintuitive or even impossible to feel grateful while managing diabetes, especially when it is such a huge part of your life. However, practicing gratitude can help you cope with and manage your diabetes better.
The role of gratitude in diabetes self-management
According to Christina Massey, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, “Research has shown that positive psychological states such as gratitude are associated with improved physical health in individuals with diabetes. The relationship is not yet fully understood, but there is research showing that the mechanism through which this relationship occurs is increased adherence to health behaviors. In other words, positive affect (emotion) is linked to healthier behaviors such as physical activity and healthier diet, which in turn are related to improved overall general health.”
Gratitude has also been found to:
• increase self-esteem. The overall positive outlook on life that comes from gratitude is associated with increased self-esteem, which in turn is linked to better self-management; and
Positive thinking benefits all of us, whether we have diabetes or not — and the easiest way to think positively is through gratitude. This is because unlike other emotions, which are often based on the past or future, gratitude involves being thankful for what you already have; it is based on your current reality, which is easier for the brain to access.
It may be hard to feel grateful when managing diabetes or when, despite trying your best, test results show no improvement in your health. However, this is when it is even more important to focus on the positives. Instead of feeling badly that your tests haven’t improved, be grateful that they aren’t worse. You may not be making the progress you want, but you are clearly doing something right. Focusing on this will help illuminate what you are doing well so you can build on that. Shifting your mindset in this way can be a powerful component of effective diabetes self-management.
Getting started with gratitude
How do you get started with gratitude? This can be particularly difficult for those who take a glass-half-empty approach to life. The right tools can help .
“The research group of which I am a member, the Cardiac Psychiatry Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, believes that gratitude can be cultivated in individuals with diabetes (and others) through performing various exercises and activities,” Massey says. “For instance, we ask participants to focus on gratitude in their daily lives by actively reflecting on positive events for which they feel grateful and expressing gratitude to others in the form of a gratitude letter. We find that by bringing more awareness to positive versus negative events throughout the day, people start to endorse increased gratitude as well as other positive emotions.”
The key to cultivating gratitude is to start small and work your way up. These suggestions can help you include gratitude in your life.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Make a detailed list of what you have been grateful for over the past week. One study showed that people who kept a gratitude journal for as little as three months learned to express gratitude more readily and started to find more things to be grateful for. Your gratitude may be for simple pleasures, such as a nice cup of coffee, or larger aspects of your life, such as the company of a loved one.
Start a gratitude jar.
Keep a jar filled with notes or photos of moments and people you are grateful for. Pick one out occasionally to get an instant boost of gratitude.
Three good things.
Each night, before going to sleep, write down three things that occurred during the day for which you are grateful, taking time to reflect on each one. Focus on how these events made you feel and why you appreciate them so much.
Remember the bad.
This may seem counter-productive, but studies show that remembering some of the difficult times from our past helps us appreciate how far we have come. Take some time to reflect on how you have tackled past problems and be thankful for your personal growth.
Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a practice that works for you. Everyone will have his or her own special way of letting gratitude into his or her life.
Maintaining your gratitude practice
Embarking on a life of gratitude is one thing, but maintaining it is another. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone — multiple forms of help are available to keep you motivated and strengthen your practice.
Sharing your positive experiences and listening to the experiences of others in a similar situation can give you a psychological boost and get you more involved in the art of gratitude. Check out “Peer Support, Education and Mentoring” for support group information.
Follow the work of experts.
Listen to recordings and read articles and books by professionals who have dedicated their lives to the science of gratitude. Louise Hay, motivational author, has written 17 books on positive psychology and produced multiple audio and video affirmations that are available via her website.
Gratitude is all about the present, making it go hand-in-hand with mindfulness. Combining your gratitude practice with a mindfulness exercise can significantly enhance the power of that gratitude, allowing you to fully absorb all the physical and mental effects of feeling thankful. “Calm,” one of the top-rated mindfulness apps on the market, has a seven-day meditation series dedicated to gratitude.
Use online resources and tools.
You can use free online tools as a framework for your gratitude practice. You will find some downloadable worksheets at Therapist Aid, which you can use to explore forms of gratitude, including relationship gratitude and self-gratitude.
Try gratitude apps.
Everyone can find an uplifting app, from affirmations to daily gratitude reminders. “Grateful” is a prompt-based app that not only reminds you to be grateful, but also makes gratitude fun. The app allows you to organize happy memories via photos, journaling and small reflections, so not having enough time is never an appropriate excuse.
Gratitude versus denial
Some people wonder whether being grateful when faced with such a difficult condition is merely denial of the reality. “We aren’t dismissing or ignoring the very real difficulties and negative aspects of such a life-impacting condition,” Massey reassures. “Instead, we strive to encourage a more balanced perspective where the difficulties are acknowledged but don’t overshadow the positive moments that help foster gratitude.” In other words, gratitude isn’t about living outside of your reality, but broadening your perspective of your reality and helping you recognize the good in your life.
What are you waiting for?
Start your gratitude journey today by including a simple gratitude activity into your daily routine. Be grateful for the opportunity to trial this self-management tool and to discover what benefits you reap.
Want to learn more about maintaining emotional health with diabetes? Read “Reducing Diabetes Stress: Alternative Treatements” and “Relaxation Techniques for Stressful Times.”