When it comes to maintaining sobriety for any extended period of time, staying grateful is absolutely key. Falling into a deep pit of self-pity can be dangerous, seeing as we usually tend to dig ourselves deeper and deeper until we are neck-deep in a slippery, self-created pit of despair that we cannot easily pull ourselves out of. We all tend to feel blue from time-to-time – and guess what? Feeling sad or engaging in self-pity on occasion is a perfectly normal reaction to stressful situations. What is key is learning to change your mindset to one of gratitude before things get out of hand. At Guardian IOP, one of the healthy coping mechanisms that we instill in each and every one of our clients is learning to exchange self-pity for gratitude.
A study published in Psychology Today notes the seven major, scientifically-proven benefits of learning to live life from a place of gratitude. These seven benefits include (but are certainly not limited to):
- The improvement of physical health – While learning to stay grateful may seem like a predominantly emotional and mental skill, doing so can have a major and positive impact on the physical body. It has been repeatedly proven that individuals who keep themselves away from self-pity and stick to a positive mindset are generally healthier – they live longer, visit the doctor less frequently and get sick less often.
- The improvement of interpersonal relationships – There is a saying that goes, “Water seeks its own level.” Essentially, this means that those who are happy will attract happy people, and those who are sad will quickly begin to understand that misery truly does love company. Staying grateful allows individuals to focus less on themselves and more on their loved ones. They become better friends, better listeners and better confidants, and their interpersonal relationships will undoubtedly improve as a direct result.
- The improvement of psychological health – It has also been proven that individuals who suffer from mild or moderate mental health conditions benefit from developing skills to help them stay grateful. It can be very difficult and frustrating for men and women who are suffering from depression to hear commentary like, “Oh, just cheer up,” or, “You have nothing to be sad about!” At Guardian IOP, we understand the difference between a psychiatric disorder and continued engagement in self-pity and pessimism.
- Improved sleep patterns – People who remain grateful generally have an easier time falling asleep. Why? Because they are not lying awake stewing about all of the times they have been wronged with others; contemplating why life is so “hard” and “unfair.” People who are grateful will understand that things could be a lot worse, and they will quite literally sleep easier because of that. We understand that many individuals who are new to recovery experience symptoms related to post-acute withdrawal syndrome, including insomnia and other sleep-related issues. We do everything in our power to ensure that our clients have the tools they need to sleep peaceful through the night.
- Increased empathy coupled with a reduction of irritability and anger – Gratitude makes one more empathetic to the trials and tribulations of others. Rather than listening to someone’s personal hardships and thinking, “What are they complaining about, my problems are worse than their problems,” people who are living in a place of gratitude will think, “I know what that struggle is like… Maybe I can offer some insight and help make their life a little bit easier.” Practicing gratitude has also been scientifically proven to reduce feelings of anger and irritability and help men and women effectively manage their emotions – this is especially beneficial to those in early sobriety.
- Increased mental fortitude – Being grateful equates to being strong. This does not mean that falling into pessimism or self-pity equates to weakness – we are all human, after all. It simply means that honing a skill like staying grateful takes a lot of personal growth, which inevitably results in increased mental strength.
- The building of self-esteem and a vital sense of self-worth – The more grateful you are, the happier you are. The happier you are, the more self-esteem you have and the more capable you become. We understand that active addiction often has serious mental and emotional consequences, and sufferers of addiction might fall victim to self-defeating thoughts. Thoughts like, “I am a bad person,” or, “I’ll never do anything right.” We work with our clients closely, helping them replace these thoughts with positive and productive thoughts – thoughts that will build self-esteem and a sense of self-worth that is crucial to long-term recovery.
What is a Gratitude List?
Nationwide Children’s, a blog created and managed by medical professionals, also explores the diverse benefits of living in gratitude. The blog published an in-depth article titled “The Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude,” explaining the connection between teaching children to be positive and the healthy development of coping mechanisms which lead to increased happiness during adulthood. One of the most beneficial coping mechanisms is writing out gratitude lists.
At first, this might seem like a trivial or ineffective exercise to those with little or no experience. The truth is, few exercises are more effective when it comes to instantaneously changing the mindset. At Guardian IOP, we work to instill each and every one of our clients with the coping skills they need to maintain long-term sobriety. One of the skills we teach is the quick jotting down of a gratitude list in a notebook or journal. This forces the brain to shift from focusing on the negative to focusing on the positive. Gratitude lists can be as short and simple or lengthy and in-depth as the client would like. In many cases we will offer our clients the opportunity to share their gratitude lists in a therapeutic group setting. This encourages open and honest sharing as well as inspiration – a client may hear their peer share something that they had previously overlooked, for example.
Relapse Prevention Strategies
An article published by Positive Psychology, titled “The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief” explains that in the practice of positive psychology, gratitude is a healthy way to actively acknowledge all of the good parts of life without dwelling on the bad. One of the professional quotes that the article mentions was originally published by Emmons and McCullough in 2003. The quote reads, “Gratitude is associated with a personal benefit that was not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but rather because of the good intentions of another person.” This directly ties into expectation. We teach our clients not to expect anything, because expectation leads to disappointment and disappointment can act as a relapse trigger. Instead, we teach them to roll with the punches and learn to rely on themselves (within reason, of course – reaching out for help from others is another crucial relapse prevention skill).
Guardian IOP and Comprehensive Addiction Recovery
At Guardian IOP, we provide our clients with a comprehensive approach to opiate addiction recovery. We understand that individuals who have been actively combatting opiate addiction will generally come to us with a negative mindset; a mindset that must be effectively changed through intensive therapy and the development of beneficial life and coping skills. If you or someone you love has been battling opiate addiction and needs help to quit, we are available to help in every way that we can. All you have to do is pick up the phone and commit to seeking the professional help you need.
Reviewed for accuracy by:
Anna Marie Barrett LCSW, CYT
Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.