Earlier today, I read an article about Charla Nash – a woman who had been brutally attacked by an ape, had a face transplant, lost her hands and her sight. We periodically hear stories like this, and it can lead us to be very thankful for how blessed we are. Sometimes we forget how blessed we are to have friends, family, shelter, etc. Thanksgiving comes around, and we think… “Oh, I really hope grandma made that chocolate pie this year” or “ugh, is it holiday season yet? I really want to see what gifts I get this year!!” Yet, we may also be feeling depressed, anxious, grieving, etc. When we are not feeling so great, it everything about life can feel miserable, and we may have a hard time thinking of what we are thankful for.
Not feeling so grateful
Did I nail it? Is this time of year difficult for you? Maybe you lost a loved one, and this was the time of year you always spent together. Is your family critical? Maybe thanksgiving dinner is full of feeling like you are being criticized by your family. Perhaps, you and your family does not have a good relationship and don’t spend the holiday together at all. To be thankful or practice gratitude is not completely forget everything that makes you sad, or depressed. The goal is to allow your brain at least a few moments to be a little less sad. It also allows you to focus on the great things in your life that you may not have noticed were there.
Make a List
This is not as easy as it sounds. Whenever I do group therapy, I try to start each session having the client listing at least 1 thing they are feeling grateful for that week. This does not have to be anything magnificent or big. You could be grateful for having the strength to get out of bed most days of the week. You could be thankful that you haven’t lost your home. What is so great about this list, is that when you are feeling down in the dumps, it is something you can look back at when you need reminding of what you are grateful for.
Change your Language
When we are feeling down and depressed, we are more likely to use a lot of negative self talk.”Maybe Mom was right, I am going to fail at getting this dinner done in time.” “I’m so stupid, why did I think the family could all get along this holiday season?” Telling yourself these things are your fault is not helpful. Challenge yourself – is it really your fault that your other siblings aren’t getting along? Or that maybe one of your parents and their sibling are not getting along.NO! You cannot control other people. As long as you have done what is in your power, the situation will turn out the best it possibly could within your control. Maybe when thinking about how poorly your siblings get along may lead you to be glad you and your partner get along so well, or thankful that you have friends you can turn to that can help you through that situation.
note: if you have a dysfunctional family, please check out the link at the bottom of this article to read tips on dealing with dysfunctional families at Thanksgiving.
Do something to help someone else
Research shows that when we help others, we feel good about ourselves. If you’re still feeling down. See if you can help hand out food at a soup kitchen this holiday season. Adopt a family who cannot afford to buy gifts for each other this season. Most cities have websites that list what types of volunteers they are looking for. If you are looking for an opportunity to volunteer, a good website I have used before is Volunteer Match. If you don’t necessarily want to go volunteer somewhere, maybe check out how your elderly neighbor is doing. When you are out shoveling your sidewalk/driveway after the first snowstorm of the season, shovel the walkway to your neighbor’s house so at least they have a bit less to shovel. Doing something for someone else can be as simple as giving your friend a compliment, telling them they look nice today – or thanking them for being such a good friend.
Maybe I just need a little reminding sometimes to be thankful…
It happens to all of us! You don’t have to be depressed to be reminded to be thankful. We all forget sometimes… because we are human! So this holiday season – maybe remind your family and friends just how thankful you are to have them. Even if you’re not feeling so grateful for your family, or don’t feel you have a great set of friends. Thank even your pet for being there to lift your spirits.
What are you thankful for? What works for you when you are not feeling so grateful?
Additional Suggested Reading
Psychology Today: Thanksgiving & Gratitude – 5 Tips for Practice
Psychology Today: Gratitude, Death, Resilience, and Thanksgiving
PyschCentral: 12 Ways to be Thankful
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.