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You can’t always control external events, but you can manage your reaction to them. If you learn how to interrupt anxiety with gratitude, you can truly change your life for the better.

Practicing gratitude is the act of shifting your perspective in the moment to develop a sort of emotional resistance to things that bring us down.

At MPower Co, we’re dedicated to helping people understand the life-changing magic of gratitude—in fact, we have an entire online course dedicated to finding strength and courage during tough times.

Unfortunately, finding gratitude in hard times can be extremely difficult—sometimes even verging on the edge of impossible.

Here are 5 steps for how to interrupt anxiety with gratitude when things seem too challenging to face head-on:

  1. Acknowledge the anxiety
  2. Look it in the face
  3. Breathe
  4. Find gratitude
  5. Move on

Keep reading to dive deeper into this topic and learn more specific tips and tricks for how to interrupt anxiety with gratitude in your daily life.

Why gratitude matters

We all owe it to ourselves to live the best possible life we can live. And that starts with recognizing the areas in which we struggle. 

For many of us, gratitude is one of the most challenging feelings to practice, because it doesn’t come easily. That’s why it’s called a practice.

But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it. Science has shown that practicing gratitude helps us:

  1. Build better relationships
  2. Express our emotions better
  3. Spread compassion

Gratitude is a reminder that there is good in the world, even when it may not feel like it. It allows us to celebrate and appreciate the value of the present moment, encouraging us to be more present in our daily lives. 

Check out this insightful 2-minute TEDTalk by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar, about how happiness is born from learning how to interrupt anxiety with gratitude. It’s an inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and above all, being grateful.

Happiness does not make you grateful. Gratefulness makes you happy.

— David Steindl-Rast

How gratitude changes your brain

Feelings like anger or resentment can be detrimental to our physical health and well being as well. Scientists have found that practicing gratitude releases dopamine and serotonin in our brain, which are the neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel good. 

Simply put, gratitude makes us feel happier. 

According to The Science of Gratitude, a white paper written for the John Templeton Foundation by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, there are a few ways that gratitude can benefit your health: 

  • More happiness
  • Greater life satisfaction
  • Less materialistic
  • Lower risk of burnout
  • Improved physical health
  • Better sleep
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Lower levels of cellular inflammation
  • Greater resiliency
  • Encourages patience, humility, and wisdom

It’s safe to say that gratitude not only matters in relation to our mental health, but it can also impact our physical health as well. 

Now the real question is how to interrupt anxiety with gratitude to find these benefits.

girl dancing in the sunset outside learning how to interrupt anxiety with gratitude

How to interrupt anxiety with gratitude: 5 steps

We all have an initial gut reaction to a situation: anger, anxiety, resistance. And these gut reactions are a sort of bias that we’ve conditioned ourselves to learn, to act upon, in the face of challenge in order to understand the world properly. 

But too many times, we take our gut reaction at face value. We think that our first reaction is the only possible reaction to a situation.

The truth is, it’s not our first thought that defines who we are or the life we live—it’s our second one. 

We might not always be able to find gratitude at the onset of a challenge, but we can teach ourselves to practice gratitude as our second thought. 

How to interrupt anxiety with gratitude:

  1. Acknowledge the anxiety: When you’re anxious, your body automatically goes into fight-or-flight mode. It’s a natural, protective measure to try and make it through a challenge without too much disruption to your mind and body. Acknowledging the natural reaction gives it less power and helps you understand that, first and foremost, anxiety is normal (it’s how you react to it that’s the important part).
  2. Look it in the face: Just because anxiety is there doesn’t mean you need to be scared of it. Be willing to embrace the way you are feeling in order to tackle it head-on.
  3. Breathe: Your breath is one of the most potent self-healing tools available in your arsenal. Take a moment to breathe and to give yourself time to have a new thought. Try taking three deep breaths to reset your physical body and your mind.
  4. Find gratitude: Once your mind is more clear, it’s time to invite gratitude into your heart. Think of something that you feel grateful for in that moment.
  5. Move on: That’s it—you’re done. Move on to living your life without too much of a thought, other than happiness and self-lasting gratitude. 

Here’s an example:

Say you’re at the office, working on a project that you feel relatively confident about. But at the last minute, your boss comes in to tell you that the meeting has been moved up alongside your timeline. All of a sudden, your confidence turns into anxiety as you realize that you have half the time to do the work you’ve budgeted the rest of the day for. 

In this moment, you have two options: Let anxiety keep you from doing the work, or accept the new timeline and hit the ground running (albeit just a little bit faster). You can’t change the fact that your deadline is sooner. You also can’t change the fact that your first emotion was anxiety, and your first thought was, “I can’t do this.” 

What you can change is your next step and your next idea. Instead of letting the voice in your head who says you can’t take over the situation, let that other voice in your head be a little bit louder. The one saying: YOU CAN.

In your anxiety, you take three deep breaths. Once the stress has subsided enough to have a thought other than anxiety, you need to find something to be thankful for. Maybe it’s the fact that your boss trusted you enough to do this project alone. Or simply just gratitude that you even have a job that you care enough about to be anxious over. Whatever it is, let that second thought—the thought of gratitude—fill your mind. You’ll probably find yourself smiling without even meaning to. 

Now, tackle the project. Do the work with the knowledge that you can, and you will because your job is important to you.

The more you practice gratitude, the more it will become a habit in your daily life. This is just one fantastic example of the way positive psychology can intrinsically benefit your life

Now that you know how to interrupt anxiety with gratitude, we recommend you dive deeper into the practice of positive psychology and how to incorporate it into your daily routine, check out our Tenacity for Tough Times course. This online positive psychology course teaches you the background and tools you need to live a more positive life.