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Susan Kaiser Greenland

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Giving Thanks to Mindfully Manage Anxiety

Posted: 11/20/2012 10:12 am

My husband's legs are long, and mine are not. When we hike together it doesn't take a lot of time for him to be ahead and for me to take up the rear. Usually, this isn't a problem, but today we were hiking an unfamiliar trail in Death Valley. I was wearing a hat with a big brim that flopped over my eyes, focused more on my feet than the horizon, and he got way far out ahead of me before I noticed. I started to worry. I'm prone to worry, and one of the reasons I've embraced mindfulness practices in such a big way is because they have helped me manage my anxiety. Today, I was worried that he had gotten too far ahead of me this time. There were plenty of twists and turns, we each had a cell phone but no cell service, and it wasn't too hard to imagine that we could lose each other.

I've learned that worrying in these situations doesn't do any good, so I defaulted to my standard alternative. I started to give thanks.

With each step I focused my attention away from my worries to something I was thankful for. My family. Our health. A few days of vacation here in the desert. That I could hike. That I was warm. Whoever thought to sew keyholes into the sleeves of my hiking shirt so I could put my thumbs through them and keep warm. Step after step I gave thanks until eventually I turned a corner and saw my husband leaning against a boulder, reading one of the several Xeroxed maps of the trail that he had brought to make sure we would find our way. The last step of that gratitude practice was to give thanks that we had been reunited.

When we have our health, a roof over our heads, and people in our lives that care about us, it seems that giving thanks would come as naturally as breathing. Yet there are times we find ourselves wanting more rather than being thankful for what we have, whether it's a better job, a longer vacation, or a bigger pile of money in the bank. Sometimes we want less: a lower credit card bill or a smaller number when we stand on the scale. When we're busy thinking about the things we'd like to be different, it's easy to forget to appreciate what we have. That's one of the many times that focusing on the present moment is a powerful practice. Whether you're eating a delicious meal or listening to a favorite song on the radio, simply feeling grateful for what is happening right now can make you feel happy even if a moment earlier you felt anything but. Gratitude reminds us that a whole lot of people participated in that delicious meal and that favorite song. It reminds us that we are connected to people we know, and people we don't know, in ways that are hard to imagine. Writing gratitude lists or journals, sending thank you notes and saying thank you are meaningful practices that help children, teens and adults embrace both the "me" and the "we" by seeing the positive impact that simple acts of kindness have on other people and themselves.

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