Associate Director of Clinical Recruitment and Resources, Jessica Genet, PhD shares how practicing gratitude can be an effective treatment tool in body image work. She explains how the use of gratitude in the recovery process can help heal the clients relationship with the body, and offers seven different ways to begin doing so.
Imagine the following: “You are driving your car to the store. Up ahead, the road is closed and road workers redirect you towards an alternate route. Once you arrive, you walk into the store and are greeted by a store employee with a friendly smile.”
Take a moment to reflect on how you would respond to this scenario. Would you focus on the hassle of the road closure? Or would you notice the small act of kindness shown by the store employee?
It is easy to take for granted the small “gifts” that occur in our daily lives as well as the more substantial blessings and silver-linings. It is also unfortunately easy to fall into a pattern of focusing on hassles, irritations and life stressors. However, research has shown that taking the time to actively practice gratitude – acknowledging goodness in ones’ life and recognizing the contribution others (people, animals, higher power) have made for the sake of our well-being– can be incredibly beneficial to our emotional and physical health. Research has shown that gratitude increases happiness and feelings of optimism, joy and pleasure. Gratitude also encourages us to “pay it forward” and be more helpful, altruistic and compassionate. A grateful focus helps us feel more connected to others and less lonely, and improves our health, strengthens the immune system and encourages us to take better care of our bodies.
At the Oliver-Pyatt Centers, we regularly incorporate practices of gratitude into our treatment. For individuals with an all-consuming eating disorder, moments of gratitude are often overshadowed by obsessive thoughts, anxiety and sadness, isolation, and other hallmarks of the disorder. We also know that the journey to recovery is often challenging. By teaching our clients to practice gratitude, we can help build their resilience to the challenges of recovery and move towards a life that feels more joyful, meaningful, and connected to others.
One area of treatment that especially benefits from the practice of gratitude is body image work. Many of our clients enter treatment extremely critical of their bodies and preoccupied with body shape and size. By encouraging our clients to take a moment to reflect on the gifts and miraculous functions of the body – such as appreciating arms because they allow us to hug a friend and our eyes which allow us to see a summer sunset – we can slowly begin to heal the relationship with the body.
Below are some suggestions for how you can start a practice of gratitude (from the book “Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier” by Robert Emmons, Ph.D.)
Keep a Gratitude Journal – Establish a daily practice of reminding yourself of the gifts, benefits and good things you enjoy. By writing each day, you magnify and expand upon these sources of goodness.
Buddhist Meditation Technique of Naikan – This practice involves self-reflection on three questions that can help address issues or relationships. It involves recognizing the gifts we receive and what we give to others, and acknowledging how we may cause pain in the lives of others.
What have I received from__________?
What have I given to ____________?
What troubles and difficulties have I caused _______?
Pay Attention to Your Five Senses – By paying attention to the ability to touch, see, smell, taste and hear we connect to what it means to be human.
Use Visual Reminders – Visual reminders (e.g., post-it notes on our bathroom mirror, reminders in our phone) serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude.
“Breath of Thanks” (by Dr. Frederic Luskin) – Two or three times a day, slow down and bring attention to your breathing. Notice the flow of your breath. For each of the next five to eight exhalations, say that words “thank you” silently to remind yourself of the gift of being alive. Practice at least three times a week.
Learn Prayers of Gratitude – Spiritual traditions are universally filled with prayers of gratitude. If you identify with spiritual tradition, incorporating these prayers into your daily life can heighten gratitude.
Go Through the Motions – If we go through grateful motions (e.g., saying thank you, writing letters of gratitude) we can trigger the emotion of gratitude. Psychological evidence has shown that attitude change often follows behavior change.
For more information about Oliver-Pyatt Centers and Clementine adolescent treatment programs, please call 866.511.HEAL (4325), visit our website, subscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.