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Gratitude: Spiritual Medicine for the Heart

Gratitude: Spiritual Medicine for the Heart

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Today I am grateful for so much, and there is so much enriching my life I can’t explain or justify. Too often do we forget to appreciate the gifts we have every second of every day, like our own pulse… our own heartbeat.

Having appreciation in our hearts goes a long way, especially those of us in recovery. Being grateful is essential to staying aligned with our interpersonal connections and our compassion. Gratitude reminds us where we come from, what we have accomplished, and how others have nurtured us in that process.

Now it seems it can be healing at our core, from where all love and emotion starts… in the heart.

According to research published by the American Psychological Association acknowledging the beauty and the fulfilling aspects of life can result in improved mental health, and also ultimately physical health in patients with asymptomatic heart failure.

This brings one to speculate that if those who have suffered severe heart failure can see such impressive results in their recovery, what does that mean for the rest of us?

Is gratitude in our lives a key element to a happy and healthier heart?

Gratitude and Spirituality

Paul J. Mills, PhD, is a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego. Mills was the lead author on a study published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice.

In this study Mills defined gratitude as part of a broader outlook on life, with elements described as:

  • Noticing and appreciating the positive parts of our life
  • It’s often credited to an external source (e.g., a pet), another person or a non-human (e.g., God)
  • Also a commonly an aspect of spirituality

Past studies have shown people who considered themselves to be more spiritual actually had greater overall well-being, including physical health. So taking that into account Mills and his colleagues set out to examine the role of both spirituality and gratitude as potential health markers in patients recovering from heart failure. In relation to his work Mills stated,

“We found that more gratitude in these patients was associated with better mood, better sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health,”

Study of Stage B

186 men and women were included in the study. Each of them had been diagnosed with asymptomatic (Stage B) heart failure for at least three months.

Stage B includes:

  • Patients who have developed structural heart disease (e.g., have had a heart attack that damaged the heart)
  • Do not show symptoms of heart failure (e.g., shortness of breath or fatigue)

According to Mills this stage is an important period for therapy in hopes of blocking the disease progression because patients are at a high risk of progressing to symptomatic (Stage C) heart failure, so improving quality of life is paramount.

Researchers created scores for gratitude and spiritual well-being with standard psychological tests then compared those scores with the patients’ scores for:

Higher gratitude scores were associated with better mood, higher quality sleep, more self-efficacy and less inflammation.

Gratitude Lists

The researchers then asked some of the patients to write down three things for which they were thankful most days of the week, which they continued for 8 weeks.

Yeah, they had them write gratitude lists… in case it sounded familiar.

According to Mills, patients who kept gratitude journals for those weeks showed amazing points of improvement, including:

  • Reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers
  • Increase in heart rate variability (considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk) while they wrote their lists

What is the point of all this? Well I personally think it’s pretty amazing the idea that science may support the notion that gratitude is its own medicine for the organ that pumps the blood of life through our bodies. That our emotional muscle can be flexed to the point it takes better care of itself.

The theory our gratitude has the potential to impact our health at the heart of it all is awesome!

Being thankful and acting on that can actually make us healthier, and for many drug addicts the extra help goes a long way with the damage we have done to our bodies with alcohol and other substances. Not to mention how important gratitude becomes in a lot of our everyday lives in recovery.

Something about two birds and a stone…

The concept of healing through gratitude isn’t new, and holistic healing is all about working on the inside and out, integrating it all to get the most out of the process. Letting mental, physical and spiritual health be a part of each other can make all the difference, and being grateful for your life can help you save it.

Healing can come from the places you least expect it, and help can come in all forms when we are willing to accept it. Drugs and alcohol do real damage to our bodies and our lives, but there are people who want to help. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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By Cheryl Steinberg

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Having one of those days that’s bad before it even starts? When you decide you’re having a bad day, the first thing to do is to un-decide that. Otherwise, it’ll just become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, if you find you need a little help un-convincing yourself about just how bad your day is going, here are 16 ways to turn a bad day around.

#1. Breathe

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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You might be surprised at just how much you forget to breathe throughout the day. I mean, of course you are breathing, otherwise you wouldn’t be alive but, there’s a difference between taking shallow breaths (which we often do) versus deep, belly breaths. Remind yourself to breathe throughout the day, every day.

#2. Meditate

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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I get it, meditating is actually pretty hard. But it comes with practice – daily practice. Be gentle with yourself and just try to add a minute to your practice each time you meditate. The long-term effects on mind, body, and spirit are well worth the effort.

#3. Pray

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Again, practicing is the best way to get in the habit of praying. This one didn’t come easy to me at first and this is common to many others. Don’t beat yourself up. Just try.

#4. Treat yo’ damn self

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Take yourself out to a movie or your favorite restaurant. Maybe splurge on a new clothing item – just don’t go overboard. The best way to treat yourself, though, is to do something that makes you feel good about yourself. Maybe get a manicure or go for a massage.

#5. Pet a kitten (or puppy)

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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There is actual science behind this. Spending time with, and petting, a lovable animal is calming and soothing. And therefore, it reduces stress levels. Plus, who wouldn’t want to spend the afternoon with a furry little bucket of love?

#6. Go to the gym

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Working out releases feel good hormones called endorphins so you can actually make yourself feel good – without using a substance. Another benefit is that you can take out that rage on the treadmill or punching bag and not have to apologize – or catch an assault charge – afterwards.

#7. Take a Mental Health Day (if you haven’t missed work/school in a while)

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Maybe take the day off – as long as this is not a pattern you’re already in. If you’ve been working hard and not taking any time for yourself, it might be time to have a day where you can recharge your batteries.

#8. Take a nice steamy shower, or hot bath

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Ahhh yes. This is a great way to turn a bad day around. The hot water will help relieve muscle tension and relax you enough to help you clear your mind.

#9. Listen to some good tunes

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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If you’re like me, music speaks to your soul. When I’m feeling angry or down, putting in my headphones and listening to my favorite songs makes me feel better instantly.

#10. Give out hugs (and by default, you will be receiving them)

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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There’s a hormone called oxytocin, which is associated with falling in love and feeling trust towards others, and it gets released when you embrace someone.

#11. Unplug from social media

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Facebook and Instagram are the worstttt when it comes to issues of self-esteem and feeling inferior. With all the humble-bragging that goes on, you see people leading these amazing lives. But, of course, what you don’t see is all the not-so-good parts – you know, the stuff that we all go through. Unplug and unwind every so often. It’ll do you good.

#12. Walk barefoot in the grass or at the beach

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Getting back to nature is a great way of improving your mood and your day. Walking barefoot rather than in shoes can help you connect to the earth beneath your feet and reminds you of what really matters in life.

#13. Watch your favorite comedy

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Laughter truly is the best medicine to cure anything that’s threatening to wreck your day. If you’re not in the movie-watching mood, you can find jokes online or watch silly youtube videos. Laughter is good stuff and again, boosts your mood.

#14. Help someone

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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When you’re having a bad day, one of the best ways to turn that around is to shift your focus from ‘self’ to ‘other.’ Helping another person will get you out of your own head and make you feel good at the same time. Another bonus is that someone else is benefitting from the situation, too.

#15. Phone (don’t text) a good friend

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Talk it out. And I mean talk. Texting really is no way to truly connect with another human being. Pick up the phone and call your bestie or someone else you trust and have a nice, long conversation. It doesn’t even have to be about your bad day. Connecting with someone you care about has its own benefits. After all, humans are social beings by nature. So, even if we want to be alone – which is OK from time to time – we also crave the company of others.

#16. Make a gratitude list

16 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

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Simple. Sit down and list all the things you are grateful for having in your life. You can’t be salty and grateful at the same time.

Has a bad day turned into a bad week, a bad month, year, decade? It’s never too late to turn it around. If alcohol and other drugs have become a constant in your life and you don’t know how else to cope, change is possible. Call an Addiction Specialist today at toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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Let’s just get right to it, shall we? Here are 10 things to be grateful for..when? Today.

#1. Sanity

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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Not the boring kind. Nowadays, being clean and sober means having our wits about us…and our wit. When I was in my active addiction, I definitely felt like I was going crazy on a daily basis. Today, I am grateful for my sanity but, the kind of sanity that generally has me reassuring those who don’t know me well that I’m not on anything. This, I think, is because of a common misconception: when we are using drugs and alcohol – for us alcoholics and addicts – we’re no fun, at all. Being clean and sober allows us to be playful and silly and, sometimes, in ways that leave others scratching their heads and wondering, “What are they on?” That’s just it. Nothing. I’m high on life, baby.

#2. Gorgeous sleep

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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Man, I don’t know about you but, in my active addiction I had the worst case of insomnia. That’s probably not much of an exaggeration, either. I had all three kinds of insomnia: difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep and rising early – meaning, I didn’t get much sleep. In fact, one of my DOCs (besides heroin and crack) was the sleeping pill, Ambien – I ate it by the handful, like M&Ms. Once I got clean however, I have had the best sleep. I can nap at the drop of a hat and I’m out once my head hits the pillow. Which brings us to the next item on our gratitude list

#3. Clear conscience

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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Having a clear conscience makes for great sleep and less anxiety, in general. In my using days, I was filled with so much guilt and shame as well as fear that I would be found out for what I was. I also had the very real fear of getting caught for all of the illegal sh*t I was doing in order to support my drug habit. Today, I don’t have those feelings taking up space in my mind and body. I mean, I’m no saint, but it’s all about progress, not perfection. It’s way easier being honest and truthful than trying to keep track of all the lies and stories I used to tell.

#4. Belly laughter

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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They say laughter is the best medicine and before you roll your eyes at this, there is actual scientific evidence to support the many health benefits of good ol’ hearty belly laughter. When I was out there using, I rarely laughed and, if I did, most often it was a forced laugh because it was appropriate, even expected in the given situation. Getting clean certainly nourished my funny bone back to health and laughing is probably one of my most favorite things to do, besides this next thing…

#5. Being able to eat

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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And I mean this in both the physical/literal sense and in the financial sense. My drug addiction had gotten so bad that I was hardly eating solid foods, if any, and I was very skinny – like, you could count all my ribs and bones in my spine. When I got into treatment, I continued to lose weight and was physically unable to eat solid foods. The docs had to give me special medication just so I could stomach real food. So, today, I am grateful for both the ability to eat good food as well as the means to pay for said food. I know a lot of you can identify with that.

#6. True friendship

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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Today, we can be grateful for true friendship and real, authentic, trustworthy friends. The “friends” I used to have were all using buddies that would through each other under the bus if given the opportunity. This is not the case today. #RideOrDieFriends

#7. Health

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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You know that saying, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything?” Well, it’s so true. Some of us might still be dealing with some health consequences from our addiction but, we’re on the road to recovery – in more ways than one.

#8. Happiness/joy

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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No longer broken inside, we can experience feeling happy, joyous and free.

#9. Freedom

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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Another thing to be grateful for today is freedom – freedom of choice. In our active addiction, we became slaves to the drugs and to the lifestyle. Today, we have the choice not to live that way anymore.

#10. Sobriety

10 Things to Be Grateful for Today

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Ugh, thank goodness we don’t have to ever feel like this again

Well, duh…one of the things to be grateful for today is our sobriety. Without it, we wouldn’t have any of the other things on this list. Of that I’m certain.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

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