Exercising the ‘thankful muscles’ even when it’s hard

I was recently reminded of a time when the ability to be grateful seemed to have left me. It was a few years ago and I was going through a difficult time at work. Full of anxieties, close to depression and struggling to see a way forward, I gave up my full-time career and started working part time.

I’d always been a bit of a worrier, but at that time worries took over my life and I became a ‘glass half-empty’ kind of person. For example, I lost the joy of my garden as I could only see the jobs that needed doing. I would go out to do some gardening but would swiftly return indoors, too overwhelmed to do anything about the jobs. Even when blessed with our first grandchildren I was full of fear for them and their futures, but was too ashamed of these thoughts and feelings to talk about them. I seemed unable to give myself permission to fully enjoy the good things I had.

One day during this period, I was in a meeting and we were asked to think of things to be thankful for. My mind went blank and I couldn’t think of anything. I realised things had to change. I had already moved forward in beginning to overcome my anxieties, using a journal to note down my feelings and thoughts, so I decided to try and start a thankful page. I certainly didn’t feel thankful as I stared at the blank page, but I forced myself to write down a few things that I should be grateful for!

This was a good start, which I was able to build on when I did Peaced Together. I began to understand the importance of thankfulness even more and my thankfulness scrapbook page became a determined effort to change my negative thought patterns. Now each time I train people or run a Peaced Together course, I make a point of joining in with the thankfulness activity – noting three things to be grateful for (one of which might be something difficult). I have added these to my scrapbook page, along with photos of my grandchildren!

Eventually, I decided to ask for help with the garden and invited a few friends round to make a start on the list of jobs (with a barbecue afterwards!) Since then I’ve been able to tackle those jobs and actually enjoy being in the garden. I’m also learning to look for small things to be thankful for – a line of washing, a flower pushing up through a crack in the pavement, birdsong, a breeze, a smile, a good memory.

Over the past months, when fears threaten to take over my thoughts, I have tried to stop and take some time out to be thankful – it’s a bit like exercising to keep the muscles working. It’s hard work at times, but has been especially important throughout last year, and will continue to be as we move into 2021.

By Julia, Location Support

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