The ability to find and express gratitude is a key element to enhancing mental wellness and maintaining sobriety.

As we enter the holiday season, many of us experience increased stress due to unreasonable expectations we place on ourselves and others.

Sometimes time with extended family members can trigger past trauma or unresolved issues. Another reason may be sadness or loneliness because of a lack of connection with friends and family members.

The varied reasons can have a negative impact on our mental wellness. Taking a pause each day to cultivate an attitude of gratitude can change our perspective and bring a sense of calm into our lives.

In recovery, as a person impacted by the disease of alcoholism, I learned to find joy in the littlest things. In the beginning, I felt as if I were totally empty and wondered if I could experience joy again.

One way I learned to change my brain and my perspective was to cultivate gratitude. I started to make a list every day about which I was grateful. If I couldn’t think of anything, I focused on the things that I take for granted: clean water, a flip of a switch for electricity, food and shelter, a beautiful sky and much more.

If agitated, this brought calm. If resentful, this brought compassion. If sad, this brought appreciation. It helped to make change in my brain, and it became an easy thing to do to build a healthy brain. It’s something I can do any time and any place.

Making a gratitude list on a daily basis or when we are in a negative state of mind is a simple method to cultivate gratitude. If this is a struggle, keep it — list things by order of the alphabet or draw.

Taking the time to create a list gives our brain the pause we need so negative feelings do not hijack our brain. It is also a great way to set the tone for the day.

Another way to cultivate gratitude is to find ways to be of service.

During the holidays, we can work on community projects that help people who are struggling. We can choose to go to family events with the mindset of being of service without expectations. Being of service is an effective way to get out of ourselves; it is rewarding and builds a sense of appreciation.

Finding ways to express appreciation to those for whom we are grateful also is effective. This can be a thoughtful note, a small meaningful gift or a random act of kindness. If we can do the act of kindness anonymously, it is even better.

We are choosing gratitude, not for the affirmation of others, but because it is helpful in making our minds healthier and deepens the meaning of our lives.

The diseases of addiction and mental health are extremely serious public health issues and need to be treated accordingly. For information or referrals regarding mental health and substance abuse issues, contact the 24-hour Reachout Hotline toll free at 800-522-9054. Other hotlines available are the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or the Problem Gambling Hotline at 800-522-4700.

Teresa Collado, MHR, is the executive director of The Virtue Center, a United Way of Norman Partner agency funded in part by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services. Its mission is to be a place of help and hope for people facing addiction and mental health challenges. For more information, call 321-0022.

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