Blogging with Dr. Jenny Holland, PsyD
The Dubious Connection between Physical Pain and Depression
As a psychologist I understand that pain and depression are closely related. Pain can be a two-edged sword, and studies have shown that depression can cause pain just as pain can cause depression. Sometimes this kind of cycle of pain and depression or feeling low, can wear us down, create added stress and interfere with our lives and disturb sleeping patterns. To get symptoms of pain and depression under control, it’s important to take proactive steps to keep yourself on an even keel.
My Own Experience
Though I don’t often talk about it, I live with physical pain every day. When the weather is cold and damp, life becomes even more challenging. This past month has been particularly intense in this way. As such, I notice my own thoughts automatically drifting toward the negative. The mental list of things that are difficult or ‘wrong’ tabulate in my mind without effort. And I understand that the weather will probably be getting worse for the next couple of weeks, at least. As a way to tackle my own discomfort and to lift myself out of the cycle of pain and depression I thought I would blog about gratitude and how this practice has helped me.
The Study of Gratitude
In recent years, the study of how a simple action such as practicing gratitude can boost happiness and alleviate depression has gained attention and momentum among psychologists and mental health professionals all over the world. Scientists say that these techniques shift our thinking from negative ruminations to positive outcomes. Gratitude practice has been shown to produce a surge of feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and helps to build enduring personal connections.
Count Your Blessings
Many people find putting pen to paper to compile a gratitude list, or to start a gratitude journal provides a sort of ritual experience that lets us focus on the positive events of the day. As we journal, we can write more detail about the events that make us feel appreciative. When I put some energy into focusing on my own situation and turning my thoughts toward what is right about my life, I can begin to build a list of items that I appreciate such as:
- I am grateful for my children and my husband. Adam and I have been together almost 25 years! That’s almost half of my life now.
- I am grateful I am healthy and that those that I love are healthy.
- I am grateful to have a few lifelong friends that support me, always.
- I am grateful for my Jewish Communities.
- I am grateful to have a job that allows me to be with people in meaningful and hopefully, in helpful ways
Expanding Gratitude into Work
Showing up and doing what I can do to help make a difference has a strong impact on my experience of pain and helps me to maintain an active, rather than a passive focus. About a year ago, I took a big leap and launched a private pay practice. Today it is thriving, and I am re-invigorated. In addition to seeing individuals, I have started a professional consultation group that is going well. I also currently run a grief group, and I am starting groups for people with disabilities and their families. I will be traveling a bit in the next few months to spread the word about a book that is coming out in March in which I am a contributor. Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences of the Trump Era. I also started a book club this year that is feisty and fun. And on my favorite weeks, I get to do a little singing with my friends at Ner Shalom.
Gratitude is an Effort Worth Making
To count our blessings or to focus on the positive when dealing with pain, depression and/or anxiety is challenging for everyone and it takes a conscious effort. However, when we adopt the practice of gratitude as a daily habit it can become an important routine and step towards self-empowerment.
Get Started with Your Own Gratitude Practice
Journaling is probably the easiest gratitude enhancing practice we can undertake. Creating a gratitude journal can be as simple as buying a blank notebook and writing down a few things you’re grateful for each night before going to bed. You can enhance your journaling experience by turning it into a ritual such as first lighting a candle, making yourself a cup of tea, sitting quietly for five minutes before you begin, etc. Whatever you choose as a ritual, do it consistently. It strengthens the ability to turn what you’re doing into a positive habit. Anything fun and relaxing, will give you motivation to form a new habit.