The One Thing I’ve Done that’s Helped Me Calm Down

How we're incorporating gratitude into our everyday lives.
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Maybe it's the endless supply of deeply upsetting news, or my recent progress in therapy, but I've realized lately that my thoughts have been more drawn to being grateful for what I have—rather than what I want, or don't have. When I mentioned this to Leslie at an editorial meeting last week, she said she'd been experiencing the exact same thing—but practicing it in a different way. Here are the ways we've been using gratitude to calm down, keep anxiety in check, and learn to appreciate the little things:

Emily

When I hear people talk about "practicing gratitude," it always makes me kind of want to roll my eyes. Of course I'm a huge proponent of appreciating what you have, but it's just the process of doing so (and then bragging about it) that turns me off. For years, I struggled with the best way to feel grateful without having to whip out a journal that I'd inevitably ditch after a few entries. G and I tried to share three things with each other as soon as we got up, but mornings in our house are nuts now that Sloan's in school, so that quickly fell by the wayside. 

The thing that finally stuck for me was coming up with a time of day that worked for me on a consistent basis. And what I realized was that Sloan's nighttime routine is so regimented (bath, then pajamas, stories, followed by cuddles and lullabies) that it basically meant that there was this free window immediately afterward for me to take advantage of each night. At this time of night, there are no emails that need to be responded to right away, no toddler pulling at my leg, and G is usually stationed in the kitchen making dinner. 

So now my routine looks like this: I put Sloan to sleep, go into our room to remove my make-up, and then lie down on the bed for a few minutes. It helps reframe the day and no matter how chaotic or stressful it was, I feel instantly at ease once my body hits the bed. I don't force myself to stay there for a specific period of time nor do I determine a set number of things I'm grateful for (especially since it was the "task" of journal writing or coming up with three each morning that overwhelmed me in the first place). I find that the less requirements I create and instead, simply commit to a specific time each day, it's enough to recenter myself and allow me to feel grateful for what I have.

Leslie

Like Emily, I've always struggled with anxiety, especially when it comes to handling stress. I've always considered myself a perfectionist, and it's only recently come to my attention that, while amazing in a lot of ways, that character trait can also be extremely detrimental. Since I'm constantly, obsessively working towards achievements (saving money to eventually buy a house or even a non-IKEA couch, being successful in my job and career), one thing I struggle with is being okay and thankful for the "here and now." But, like my therapist pointed out the other day (yes, in L.A. everyone has one...), if I don't learn how to slow down and be grateful now, once I get my dream house, or whatever that dream aspiration is, I won't have the skill set to appreciate it. And I have a lot to be thankful for now! I have an incredible boyfriend, a job I love, perfect health, and girlfriends I talk to every single day, in a city I adore. I don't want to wait until one of those is gone to realize how much it meant to me! So I've come up with a strategy for myself: 

Whenever I experience anxiety bubbling up these days, I force myself to literally say "Stop" and recite—in my head or out-loud if I'm alone—five things I'm grateful for. When I was stuck in traffic last week, on my way to a dentist appointment, I started to feel upset and frustrated with the complete halt on the freeway, then stopped and reminded myself, "I will not remember this in a year. It does not matter." I made myself think of five things I'm thankful for, starting each sentence with "I'm grateful that.."

1. I'm grateful that I have medical insurance that allows me to take care of myself and go to the dentist.
2. I'm grateful that I own a car and am not stuck on a bus or subway.
3. I'm grateful that I have a job that's flexible and understanding, where I can be a few minutes late without any consequences.
4. I'm grateful that I have extra time to myself to sit in the car and listen to podcasts. 
5. I'm grateful that my boyfriend handed me breakfast before I ran out the door so that I'm not hungry.

And then I kept going! By the time traffic started moving again, I'd racked up a list of nearly twenty things to be grateful for and my mood swung from annoyed, bitter, ready-to-honk-at-anyone-who-cut-me-off, to completely calm and happy. It amazed me! Now I do it regularly, when I'm feeling cranky on my way home from a stressful day at work (I'm grateful that I love what I do.), when I read a mean comment on the blog (I'm grateful that I have friends to laugh about this with) when I don't get enough sleep (I'm grateful for Stumptown 'Hair Bender' Coffee.), or when I feel overwhelmed because I don't have enough hours in the day (I'm grateful that I've made a full life for myself in a city I love). It sounds cheesy, and believe me, I am so not cheesy and rarely ask for help—but sometimes embracing the "cheese" can be the best thing for you.

When and how do you practice gratefulness? Tell us in the comments, below!