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Why gratitude matters!

As we enter the new year after the festive season of gifts, I would like to share the benefits of a gift linked to wellbeing: Gratitude. Gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness”. Many gestures of gratitude can be used to manage our post-Christmas blues and enable us to focus on starting 2023 as we mean to go on. Anyone can use gratitude gestures to drive positivity at any time, any location and to anyone, including yourself.

Here are the reasons why and how gratitude helps our mental health.

Firstly, what problem is gratitude answering?

PR stress. The PR industry is renowned for its high levels of stress. According to London Medical Laboratory, PR is one of the “10 most stressful jobs in the UK”. I ran a mental health programme with a PR company in 2022 using my PR and mental health expertise, and heard numerous reports of anticipated 2023 stress drivers: “hitting the ground running with the high volume of work”, “reigniting the fake flame of happiness with PR contacts” and “managing the lack of time”. Do any of these resonate with you?

How does stress impact our minds?

It is important to understand why our minds react to stress. Think of a film you like and remember the storyline. Our brains remember storylines because they actively connect with our brain’s neural circuits. Every circuit carries out a specific function when activated, eliciting a mixture of prosocial and defensive behaviours. It is important to accept that defensive behaviour is a way to protect us from danger, especially when we were evolving as homo sapiens.

Prosocial behaviour is another way to manage stress but as important. According to the National Library of Medicine, prosocial behaviour is “essential for group cooperation, which enrich life experience and enhance survival”. We remember stories because they drive prosocial behaviour.

How does gratitude manage our stress?

Dr Andrew Huberman at the Stanford University of Medicine investigated the role of gratitude in our minds and discovered the mental benefits of getting into “Gratitude Mode”. A story that includes gratitude can “drive our prosocial behaviour and give our neural circuit activation a positive lift”. Dr Huberman also found a series of surprising results: we do not have to be directly involved in a story to receive a positive mental response from it. We can move into gratitude mode through direct and indirect stories, which rewire our brains to become more positive and less defensive. This insight validates the role of the PR industry!

Dr Huberman explains that stories must be believable and can be about “being thanked for something, or someone else giving thanks”. A repetition of stories is important because in a short space of time our neural circuits will start to be rewired and we will begin to appreciate the positive moments and our mental health will improve as a result. This point further demonstrates the positive value of PR and Communications.

It is worth noting that gestures of gratitude improve the mental health of the giver as well as the receiver. The gestures help to enhance the relationship between the two by activating prosocial circuits in the brain.

Your new year resolution

As we enter 2023, why not consider employing gestures of gratitude to help manage the industry stress of yourself and your colleagues? Gestures can be external, such as communicating via email or social media, or internal, including journaling and mindfulness. Gestures are usually free, quick, personal and inclusive and can significantly improve relationships with ourselves as well as our colleagues and industry contacts. Simply saying ‘thank you’ can take us away from our stress drivers and gives us more time to review the challenges we face in a more rational way.

So, when you next give or receive a message of thanks - try to notice the smiles and feel the positive mental impact.

Wishing you a healthy 2023, and thank YOU for reading this.

Article written by Patrick Melville. mental health practitioner and PR expert

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