“Anxiety was also the culprit for me confusing simple and sincere gratitude with indebtedness. This made me more anxious. To the point where I made a conscious decision to only show gratitude if I deemed it worthy because I didn’t want to feel I ‘owed’ anybody anything in return.”
When anxiety is peaking, it is hard to express meaningful thanks to someone who has done something that we are deep-down grateful for. Anxiety has this awful habit of making us fear what is going to happen next; what life has in store for us.
It consumes our thoughts with its negative patterns making it difficult to be ‘in’ the present moment. So, when a person makes a special effort to please us, we might express our gratitude but without sincerity. Perhaps a disingenuous ‘thanks’. We don’t mean to. We ARE sincere. But we’re too busy worrying about what ‘might’ be. Therefore, we sometimes let the moment pass us by.
As a ‘veteran’ anxiety sufferer, I have encountered many of these moments. I have always been grateful to every person who has helped me, and for my children, my husband, for life itself, for waking up in the morning. But I wasn’t mindful of my gratitude. I didn’t consciously appreciate the birds singing in the trees, the sun shining, the man that held the door open for me that time! I was far too preoccupied with anxiety. It was as if anxiety controlled me. Like a puppet. It did, for a long time. Anxiety, or rather manifestations of anxiety, were to blame for a lot of the times that I had forgotten to show my own appreciation.
Anxiety was also the culprit for me confusing simple and sincere gratitude with indebtedness. This made me more anxious. To the point where I made a conscious decision to only show gratitude if I deemed it worthy because I didn’t want to feel I ‘owed’ anybody anything in return. This, in turn, created a new level of anxiety. If I said thank you, I didn’t think it was good enough. If someone did something for me, it meant they wanted me to offer some sort of favour to level it out. It was a constant battle and one that was exhausting to keep up with. But I was doing it to myself. I was over-thinking. I would look into the person’s eyes to try and work out if they were sincere. To try and make sense of why they would go out of their way to do something nice for me. The defences were up. Always.
During my recovery from anxiety, I have had many eye-opening experiences. The slow, painful decline of my marriage. The passing of my beloved grandfather. The perspective that my day job brings. To name a few. A lot of realisation hit me all at once. I realised that I can’t control everything. I needed to let go of my anxieties in order to control it, and IT only. I realised I had to make positive choices and try not to see everything through the eyes of anxiety. I realised I needed to be sincerely thankful for what I have. Because my anxiety and its manifestations were ruining my life and making me into a person who I am truly NOT.
Since those stark realisations and the clarity that came from them, I have taken gratitude for what it really is. It’s not indebtedness. It is acknowledging acts of kindness from others. It is being kind to myself. It is breathing in the air we are surrounded with and thanking the universe that I am alive and permitted to live another day. It is seeing my children flourish into the happy beings they are and encouraging more and more happiness in the process. It is smiling at the lady walking her dog or the child riding her bike or the man stepping out of his car nearby. It is accepting compliments for what they are. It is looking in the mirror and being grateful for my eyes so that I can see. For my mouth so that I can speak and taste. It is all of those things, big and small, that we sometimes take for granted.
The simplest way to practice gratitude is to think of 3 new things per day that you are grateful for. It could be something small, for instance, the running water when we turn on the tap. Or, the butterfly you see in the garden fluttering by minding its own business, with its pretty wings and its graceful landings. It could be something personal, for instance, your partner, or the way you reacted that time when you were faced with adversity. It could be that you are grateful for long natural nails or perfectly straight hair. It could be acts of kindness from another person, however small. For example, “I am grateful to the person who let me go ahead of them in the queue.”
Being grateful inspires us to give back. It should not make us feel we are held to ransom with an IOU. Gratitude is giving and taking. It creates an abundance of happiness, if we let it.
I wish you all the very best in your journey towards gratitude!
Lil – The Not-So Secret Diary