1. Home
  2. Blog
  3. Patient
  4. The Impact of Gratitude on Depression and Anxiety 

The Impact of Gratitude on Depression and Anxiety 

The Impact of Gratitude on Depression and Anxiety 

This material has been reviewed for accuracy by: Renee Albers, PhD

“Say ‘Thank you,” a mother reminds her young kiddo. 

“T.G.I.F.!” we cheer at the end of a long week.

We know it’s important to be thankful. But do we know why? Research shows gratitude may go beyond simply recognizing something someone else has done for you.: Practicing the act of gratitude may, in fact, be good for our well-being overall. 

According to the Psychology Today website: 

“Psychologists find that, over time, feeling grateful boosts happiness and fosters both physical and psychological health, even among those already struggling with mental health problems. Studies show that practicing gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions and shifts inner attention away from such negative emotions as resentment and envy, minimizing the possibility of ruminating, which is a hallmark of depression.” 

People who are grateful feel less pain and stress, sleep better, have healthier immune systems and relationships, and are less likely to have mental health problems, according to the website. 

What is gratitude? 

Gratitude is an emotion or mood you may feel when something positive happens, or when you think about something positive happening, and there is an external source for that positive outcome, according to the Psychology Today website. 

“Gratitude is a spontaneous feeling but, increasingly, research demonstrates its value as a practice – that is, making conscious efforts to count one’s blessings. Studies show that people can deliberately cultivate gratitude – and there are important social and personal benefits to doing so. It is possible to feel grateful for loved ones, colleagues, animals, nature, and life in general. The emotion generates a climate of positivity that both reaches inward and extends outward.” 

According to a New York Times article, you may feel gratitude when you acknowledge that you have goodness in your life, and that other people or higher powers have helped you achieve that goodness. 

“In other words, the sources of the good things ‘lie at least partially outside the self,’” said psychologist Robert A. Emmons, author of a landmark study on how people benefit from gratitude, in the article. “You might feel gratitude when someone is kind to you, for example.” 

“‘But ‘feeling it is only half the equation,’ said Philip Watkins, a professor of psychology at Eastern Washington University and the author of ‘Gratitude and the Good Life.’ Expressing gratitude is equally important to reap the benefits of this emotion,” he said. 

According to a Verywell Mind article, you may actively experience or express gratitude in your daily life in different ways. For example: 

  • “Spending a few moments thinking about the things in your life that you are grateful for
  • Stopping to observe and acknowledge the beauty [or] wonder of something you encounter in your daily life
  • Being thankful for your health
  • Thanking someone for the positive influence they have in your life
  • Doing something kind for another person to show that you are grateful
  • Paying attention to the small things in your life that bring you joy and peace
  • Meditation or prayer focused on giving thanks” 

How gratitude may affect anxiety and/or depression 

Gratitude can be powerful, especially if you struggle with anxiety or depression, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of American (ADAA) website, because it can affect the way you think. 

“While anxiety and depressive disorders come in different forms and flavors, they share some commonalities. All are associated with underlying negative thinking patterns,” according to the ADAA website. “The content of anxious and depressive thinking is often negative in nature. Common forms of negative thinking include overly focusing on negative aspects or problem areas (called the negativity bias), discounting the positives (‘yeah but’-ing away any positive aspect or occurrence), and catastrophizing or jumping to the worst-case scenario.”  

In other words, expressing gratitude for the good things in your life may change your thinking – quite literally. Spirally into a vortex of negative thoughts may make it hard to manage anxiety and depressive symptoms. Yet expressing thanks for the “silver linings” in your life may redirect your thinking.

“Gratitude can increase your happiness and wellbeing, life satisfaction, even overall health while decreasing the stuff we all want less of like anxiety, depression, and anger,” according to the ADAA website. “It can be a powerful practice to cultivate, especially if you struggle with anxiety or depression.” 

“Gratitude heals, energizes and changes lives,” according to Dr. Emmons in the New York Times article. “It is the prism through which we view life in terms of gifts, givers, goodness and grace.” 

The limitations of gratitude 

For some people who experience anxiety or depression, being told to practice gratitude can feel demeaning, demoralizing and/or dismissive. It may feel like they are minimizing a mental health condition and think they’re being told that it’s just a matter of having a “positive attitude.”  

Author Heather Loeb on the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI) website said she experienced this firsthand:  

“It happens to me a lot when I talk about my depression. Someone will suggest that I ‘be grateful’ for the wonderful life I have. By acknowledging the many positives in my life and by expressing gratitude, they reason, I won’t be ‘so depressed.’  

I fully acknowledge that I have an amazing life, and I’ve always had what I needed. But having my basic needs met – and even having wonderful things and people around me – does not ‘solve’ my major depressive disorder, anxiety and personality disorder. Frankly, when dealing with the challenges of mental illness, it can be difficult to feel and express gratitude.” 

Clinical psychologist Ashley Smith, PhD, says it’s important to be remember that gratitude doesn’t negate pain and should not be fuel for guilt, according to the ADAA website. 

“It might sound something like this: ‘I don’t have a right to be sad. I have so much to be grateful for. What’s wrong with me?’ Sentiments like that take gratitude, which is an expanding and bolstering practice, and turn into a mental whip with which to flog yourself. The resulting guilt is unnecessary and [undeserved]. We need to be clear that anxiety and depression are not the result of you being ungrateful. Rather, gratitude is a tool to add to your arsenal to help you cope,” according to the website. 

How to practice gratitude 

Just like any other skill, you may need practice to ensure it becomes an integral part of our coping skills. 

“Developing a sense of gratitude isn’t complex or challenging. It doesn’t require any special tools or training,” according to the Verywell Mind article. “…the more you practice it, the better you will become and put yourself into a grateful state of mind.” 

There are several actions you can take to make practicing gratitude a habit.  

  1. Look internally. Are you enjoying the small moments of the day? Something as simple as a bag of your favorite potato chips, the rush of wind on your face or a smile from a stranger are all things to be thankful for.
  2. Watch your language. Pay attention to how you talk. Do you say “thank you” a lot or a little? A Mindful article asks these questions: “Just how much of a habitual response is it? Is it a hasty aside, an afterthought? How are you feeling when you express thanks in small transactions? Stressed, uptight, a little absent-minded? Do a quick scan of your body—are you already physically moving on to your next interaction?”
  3. Make a list & check it twice. Writing down the things, people and actions you are thankful for each day. That action may put you in a more thankful and upbeat mindset. Also, having this running list of things that you are thankful for may help on those days you struggle to see the bright side. “Being able to look back on these observations can help when you are struggling to feel grateful,” according to the Verywell Mind article.
  4. Check in with the 5 senses. One of the grounding techniques developed for panic or anxiety attacks is centered on the five senses (5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, etc.). This can also be a good way to start practicing gratitude. What are 5 things you see that you are thankful for? Can you touch 4 things that you are grateful for? What 3 things do you hear that make you happy? Are there 2 smells you enjoy? What 1 thing you taste that you are thankful for?
  5. Phone a friend or family member. Research has found that expressing gratitude can strengthen relationships,” according to the Mindful article. “So, the next time your partner, friend or family member does something you appreciate, be sure to let them know.”


Where to start practicing gratitude 

Woman of color writes in a journal, which is one of the ways to identify and show gratitude. “One moment a day is enough” to start a gratitude practice, according to the New York Times article: “The studies on gratitude don’t indicate how often we ought to express gratitude or how best to put it into practice. But many experts believe that a small dose of gratitude, once a day, is ideal.” 

“Gretchen Schmelzer, a psychologist in Philadelphia who regularly incorporates gratitude exercises into her work with clients, said it could be especially useful during difficult times. Earlier this year, she fell while hiking and broke both legs, leading her to use a wheelchair for six weeks. 

To avoid spiraling into negative thoughts while she continues to heal, she tells herself each day to ‘be thankful for what you can do – and not let yourself focus on what you can’t do,’ she said. 

‘Gratitude allows us to look at what we do have and to feel abundance,’ she added.” 

For more information about this topic, please read: 

### 

 

Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider. 

The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors. 

If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please call us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful. 

 

Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.

The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.

If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please contact us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.

Menu