The Science of Gratitude

Two renowned experts in the field of mental well-being, Dr. Janel Casey, Acting Regional Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the Royal Columbian Hospital and Joti Samra, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, researcher, well-known known for her involvement in national initiatives, speak to keeping mentally well during pandemic times.

Joti Samra, Ph.D., provides a comprehensive view of the importance of gratitude. Scientific research shows that a daily gratitude practise reduces anxiety and depression and increases immune function, important with a rampant pandemic. Much of her work has been in examining workplace mental health, and she says a workplace where appreciation and recognition are expressed and reward (not necessarily monetary) provided, workers are motivated. Employees develop pro-social behaviour that has a ripple effect in an organization, which creates a lightness of mood. People feel happier, more relaxed and engaged.

She says that gratitude, widely practised, would make for a better functioning society – as seen in societies where happiness is considered important. Children are more likely to be kind and be reciprocal. It also gives people permission to be more vulnerable which allows for deeper relationships.

She says a gratitude ritual can take little time but bear huge results in buffering one against conflict and stress. Dr. Samra says that when she wakes up each morning, she thinks of three things for which she is grateful, then during the course of the day, she thinks back on those things.

Dr. Janel Casey, acknowledging that there is a very strong mind-body connection, says that the first line of offence in creating and sustaining mental well-being include eating well, drinking enough water, limiting alcohol and caffeine, good sleep hygiene, building a healthy support network, and connecting with things bigger than oneself.

Often people descend into depression because of negative thinking and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is  the therapy that is useful in changing that. It teaches you to change your thoughts and actions to elevate your mood, for example, by challenging your negative thoughts. She says that the Canadian Mental Health Association have a couple of good CBT programs that one can learn about on their website. There is also an app called WindShift CBT.  There are group therapy sessions that are often run through local Mental Health Units; your doctor can advise.

For people who are experiencing serious depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts etc., they should seek out professional help, through referral by your doctor, or by finding references for psychologists and other related professionals. You can also refer yourself to the RCH Psychiatry Department. She says that the new 75-bed mental health building is beautifully set up. Patients have their own rooms with bathrooms. There are exercise rooms, comfort rooms and outdoor patios.

She says having some stress is necessary for life. You wouldn't do anything if you didn't have any stress. But on-going stress gets out of hand in our modern society, and it's increased by the pandemic. Addictions too. Also the perfect picture of other people's lives as seen on social media doesn't help one's mental well-being, unrealistic as they are. She says that are people who can help.

By: Susan Millar

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