Did you know that there is immense power in gratitude and being kind to ourselves? Yep, it's true! There are numerous health benefits that come from being thankful and treating ourselves with compassion and respect.
Mindset is everything. It's the secret sauce that helps people heal. I know many of you will be rolling your eyes at this point; skeptics tend to shut down when we start talking about mindset and its impact on the body.
If that's you, stick with me here. This is something that’s had profound effects for my patients and in my own life.
Gratitude and self-kindness can do a lot of good for our health and hormones. It may surprise you! I'll also share a quick exercise that will help you start shifting your mindset into one that will shift your mood and hormones for the better.
Benefits of Gratitude for Your Hormones
Practicing gratitude can help improve your stress response, resulting in optimal cortisol levels.
In addition, it can help boost oxytocin, which helps us form deeper connections with our loved ones. Oxytocin is also a powerful hormone that works to combat the negative effects of stress.
The benefits of gratitude also extend to shifting brain hormones that bring a sense of happiness, as we'll discuss in this article.
In my medical practice I encourage my patients to adopt a gratitude practice coupled with shifting how they talk to themselves as a way to shift their hormones, inflammation levels, and health.
Self Compassion Lowers Inflammation
Inflammation is produced by the body in times of illness. While that is a temporary and beneficial situation, chronic inflammation is a known problem when it comes to our health. Chronic inflammation can lead to cardiovascular issues, adrenal dysfunction, insulin resistance, and can certainly play a role in menstrual cycle woes.
In 2015, a study was conducted on 41 healthy young adults to determine whether self-compassion played a role in reducing inflammation. Researchers assessed participants' baseline levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6). IL-6 is a pro-inflammatory protein that the body produces in response to infection, tissue damage, and in autoimmunity. It helps defend against short-term injury or infection, but IL-6 dysregulation can cause problems in the body.
In the study, researchers compared the baseline IL-6 levels to the levels measured after the participants were exposed to a stressor. Those with higher self-compassion had lower levels of IL-6, leading researchers to conclude that self-kindness may help to lower stress-related inflammation.
Being gentle with yourself can help combat stress and inflammation.
Self Compassion is Protective
Stress is an inevitable part of living in this modern world and while we can try our best to control it, truly the most effective way to manage stress is to control our response. When stress goes unchecked for long periods of time, known as chronic stress, it causes unfavorable shifts in our hormones.
Elevations in cortisol can lead to cellular aging and are associated with negative health outcomes. Additionally, this stress can lead to issues in our fertility and periods.
Other studies have also concluded that “self-compassion may serve as a protective factor against stress-induced physiological changes that have implications for health.”
So what does that all point to? Being kind to ourselves. Think about the way you talk to yourself sometimes. Ask yourself, would I ever speak that way to another person?
I challenge you to treat yourself like you treat your best friend: with love, kindness, and understanding. Nothing good comes from negative thoughts. Switch them out with some self-love.
How Gratitude Changes Your Brain and Hormones
Gratitude, self-kindness, and gentle self talk can play a role in transforming your health. Several studies have found that gratitude helps people to be happier, less likely to suffer from burnout, and increased life satisfaction.
One study showed that gratitude even led to better sleep, less fatigue, and less cellular inflammation. Some of these benefits are attributed to lower cortisol levels and improved immunity.
Dopamine and serotonin, which are associated with better moods, are released in the brain during gratitude practice. The great thing about dopamine is while it’s got you feeling good it also makes you want to keep practicing gratitude, making it easier to adopt the habit.
In addition, gratitude increases blood flow to the hypothalamus, a structure in the brain which controls many of your hormones in your body.
If you’re struggling with chronic illness or hormone issues, it can be really hard to find anything to be grateful for. I get it. In addition, you may find yourself in extremely trying situations that feel hopeless. I’m not saying “just be grateful and that will fix everything about life.” I’m saying self compassion and gratitude can be a tool to help you cope on a mental, emotional, and physical level.
Adopting these practices can sometimes be difficult. So tonight, I have a simple bedtime task for you, one that will make feelings of gratitude come a little easier and easier over time.
How to Start a Gratitude Practice
Before you go to bed tonight, I want you to take the following three steps. I know, I know, you're tired, and you want to head straight to Dreamland, but this won't take you long. Promise.
1. Write down three things you're grateful for.
These can be three things that were good today (maybe you rocked a meeting at work or woke up with a perfectly tousled bed-head), or three things that are good in general. This doesn’t have to be profound, but it should be something that brings on some of those feel good feelings.
Imagine your body filling up with the emotions that those three things made you feel: content, happy, excited … whatever the feelings are, as long as they inspire gratitude.
2. Write down three intentions for tomorrow.
Many of us take the days as they come, letting time happen to us instead of participating in its passing. This is where setting an intention can be life-changing. What's an intention? It's similar to a goal, but not quite. A goal is something you reach—it's an achievable result that is out there in the future. An intention is something you manifest all the time, and it needs to come from your heart.
Let's break that down, because I know it can get confusing.
Example of a goal: Tomorrow, I will meal-prep for the week, so I can stay on track with eating my veggies.
Example of an intention: I intend to treat my body with kindness today.
Think about goals as something you’ll achieve and intentions as how you’ll be or move through your day.
Sometimes one word intentions work best. Don’t overcomplicate it and as you adopt this practice, use what works best for you.
When writing your three intentions, make sure one of those intentions is how you want to feel tomorrow. And as you write that down, I want you to feel that emotion in your body.
3. Let your positive words fill you up.
After you've written down the three things that you are grateful for and your three intentions, allow yourself to feel them as you fall asleep.
Lay in bed and maybe take some deep, meditative breaths. Let those intentions and those thoughts of gratitude really flow through and fill your body.
When you wake up the next day, reread these notes and go through the same practice of filling them in your body. Maybe they put a smile on your face.
“Your body hears everything your mind says.” – Naomi Judd
Breines JG, Thoma MV, Gianferante D, Hanlin L, Chen X, Rohleder N. Self-compassion as a predictor of interleukin-6 response to acute psychosocial stress. Brain Behav Immun. 2014;37:109-114. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2013.11.006
Tanaka T, Narazaki M, Kishimoto T. IL-6 in inflammation, immunity, and disease. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2014;6(10):a016295. Published 2014 Sep 4. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a016295
Allen, S., Ph.D. (n.d.). The Science of Gratitude. Retrieved November 04, 2020, from https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf