Sometimes we all have moments where we feel like the world is against us.
Only today I myself managed to get into a real grump after arriving late to my French class. A road had been closed unexpectedly and being the only route I knew to my teacher's house, I had to rely on the diversion signs. Except they were confusingly laid out, and I was now late. Suffice to say I was not in the mood for my teacher's very justified ribbing and classmate's teasing for being "en retard" when I arrived. Fortunately, my mental health is in a good place right now, and I was able to shake off this feeling soon after. I had managed to make it to class and was only a few minutes late. My lateness actually made me the centre of attention for a moment (which in short doses, I love) and I practised some extra phrases, which knowing me will no doubt be useful in my life going forward!
Had my mental health been in a less robust place (and I do not say this to gloat, a huge part of my job is to ensure that I am safe for my clients to be vulnerable with) perhaps I might have spent a little more time in that negative headspace. Maybe a lot more time. Maybe I would have eschewed contact with my classmates at our break time, and driven home fast and angrily. Even dangerously. Worse still, had an accident and been hurt.
All because of a road being closed on a Monday afternoon for a small French town to cut some branches off a tree.
This is an extreme example, but I hope a relatable one. The point I'm getting is that even the most innocuous event could be the final straw for one of us who is under pressure, or struggling with depression, or anxiety or addiction. We might not have got home safely but for a chain of events that we could potentially have halted by practising some positive mental health tools.
Anyone who has ever been part of a fellowship and twelve step program will already know the power that gratitude can have on our lives, even with most everything else staying the same. Gratitude is one of the tools that we can have in our toolbox that might get us out of a difficult headspace, to a healthier, calmer, safer one.
So how do I become grateful?
Well, gratitude is not complicated. It's a feeling that most of us will have been taught to recognise when we were children. The feeling of being truly grateful and thankful for something. It might be something that has happened to us, is happening to us, has not happened to us or that we are, were, or might be. It's broad.
We can be grateful that our children ate their dinner this evening without fuss, or we can be thankful for a friend sending us a message when they hadn't seen us on social media for a while and want to check in. We can be grateful that the bus arrived early so we got to our job interview on time, or we can be thankful for something that we brought about ourselves, for example creating a piece of art, or having the opportunity to exercise.
I would encourage you to inject some gratitude into your life, even if it feels like there isn't much for us to be thankful for right now. At some point, it's highly likely that there will have been something worthy of thanks, and it's all too easy for us to focus on the negative when we feel vulnerable. But we owe it to ourselves and our mental health to engage our logical brain at this moment. To list some things which have given us cause for gratitude.
Now we've come up with a few ideas, the big question is how to avoid chiché? (If we want to!)
Well, you may have heard of gratitude lists - a little notepad that someone might keep next to their bed and write a few things down in before going to sleep. That's fine, good. It works (it really does) but it might feel a bit tacky, or passé.
So get creative - how about using an app to track your gratitude? There are thousands of apps out there where we can track everything from our basal body temperature to our levels of psychosis on a daily basis. There are free-text fields all over these apps. Maybe there's one for you.
If you're a creative, why not set aside some time once a week (or more if you have space) to create a representation of your gratitude. Be that drawing, making music, crafting, building, it doesn't have to make sense to anyone but you.
If you do decide to try this and it works well for you, do let me know in the comments.
Laura is an online talking therapist and writer specialising in working with millennials and the LGBTQI+ community.