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Hello Idaho: Practicing gratitude can boost mental, physical health

Steps as small as keeping a journal or picking up the phone to tell someone you appreciate them can have a major impact.

BOISE, Idaho — 2020 has been a hard year for many people.

But focusing on what has gone wrong can only intensify negative feelings, according to mental health experts, who say everyone should take time to reflect on the good things in their life.

Dr. Dennis Woody from Optum Idaho broke down how practicing gratitude can help improve both mental and physical health alike. 

“Some of the leading researchers in this area have found that keeping a simple gratitude journal can help you feel more energetic, alive, awake, and alert. Gratitude can be very difficult at times because it requires us to acknowledge our dependency on others – that’s not always positive," he said. "Practicing gratitude seems to magnify positive feelings more than it reduces negative feelings, so the negative feelings may still be there, it’s just you’re really zeroed in on the positive things.”

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According to Woody, practicing gratitude taps into the connection between your mind and your body. In other words, how you think can change how you physically feel.

"It seems pretty clear that some of the research that’s been done suggests that people that focus and track gratitude have higher self-esteem and they tend to sleep better, and we all know that sleeping better has positive implications all the way around," he said. "They also seem to have stronger social relationships which is also a very supportive and curative thing when you’re feeling kind of stressed.”

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Writing down a list of things you are happy about, journaling positive feelings, and appreciating the role other people play in our lives can all help kick-start the process, Woody said. He suggested reaching out to those people through a letter or phone call to thank them.

Of course, focusing on positive feelings does not just make everyone's real-life struggles vanish.

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“I don’t know if you’ll forget about them, but the reality is that it seems to impact us in a very positive way. Dr. Robert Emmons (University of California, Davis) indicates you cannot have gratitude at the same moment in time that you have negative feelings," Woody said. "So if you focus on that gratitude, you spend more time looking at the positive things in your life and less time on the negative things.”

If you are experiencing major struggles with your mental health and need to talk to someone, you can always seek help through the Idaho Careline at 2-1-1.

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