How Gratitude Can Help Us Through Pandemic Fatigue this Thanksgiving

By Lauren Presutti

If you’re feeling tired of the COVID-19 prevention guidelines, you are not alone. Many of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue in one way or another. With the holidays coming up, we are once again grieving the loss of normalcy in 2020. Our holiday plans will likely look different this year. In just a couple of short weeks, it will be Thanksgiving and most of us will feel the loss of traditional gatherings we looked forward to in the past. I want to acknowledge the emotional pain and anguish that we may experience this time of year, but I also want to share insight on the mental health benefits of expressing gratefulness – even during a pandemic.

The challenges of COVID-19 may leave us feeling exhausted and disappointed – to say the least – but those who practice gratitude are usually more likely to adapt, use effective coping skills, and realize the hidden strengths they have inside of them when faced with difficult life circumstances. They are also more likely to experience higher levels of perceived social support and lower levels of stress and depression. Further, individuals practicing gratitude are more likely to engage in self-reflection, meaning they spend more time thinking deeply about their values, relationships, experiences, and feelings. Spending more time reflecting on one’s experiences usually allows people to slow down and notice the positives in life that they may have been overlooking. This can serve as a major protective factor against the pandemic-related fatigue that overwhelms us when we feel consumed by safety precautions, news and media reports, social distancing, and isolation in general.

Building your capacity for gratitude might take practice, but the more you can bring attention to the things for which you feel grateful, the easier it may be for you to lean into this healthy habit. Below are some strategies for practicing gratitude that you may find helpful, especially as we head into this unprecedented holiday season.

Keep a Gratitude Journal.  Sometimes it can be helpful to keep an ongoing list of the things that bring us joy. Often, our lives are so busy with distractions and we move from one thing to the next without slowing down. It can be helpful to slow down and practice mindfulness by remembering that even a virtual exchange with a friend, a delicious meal, or a warm fireplace can be opportunities to feel grateful. Make a list of these moments in your journal on a daily basis. Even if you can only think of one gratitude moment each day, use that one daily practice as a starting point. Gratitude is never a competition. There is no need to worry about your gratitude journal being different from the journaling of others.

Remember Your Past.  To be grateful for where we are today, it can be helpful to remember what we have already overcome. Have you ever wondered, how did I get through a painful experience from the past? Spend time reflecting on the challenges that you have persevered through. For those who missed significant celebrations over the past several months, such as important birthdays, weddings, graduations, or family events, this is especially relevant. It was because of your inner resiliency, strength, skills, and personal attributes that you were able to cope with those previous losses. Acknowledging your strength for persevering through those losses doesn’t diminish the pain of those losses, but it may allow you to feel more capable and confident as you face similar challenges this holiday season. Remind yourself how you have gotten through previous hard times. Acknowledge the skills you have to cope with the pandemic. Celebrate your triumphs.

Share Your Gratitude With Others.  Expressing gratefulness can bring people closer together. Family and friends can help you foster your appreciation and can support you if you struggle with this practice. Sharing a commitment to gratitude with others may also open your eyes to another person’s perspective, allowing you to understand gratefulness in a new light. Spend some time asking the people closest to you what they feel most grateful for as Thanksgiving approaches. You may also want to write letters to important people in your life to let them know what you appreciate most about them.

Remember there are multiple paths to gratitude. Some days you may find it easier than others. That’s okay. Remind yourself that you are only human and we all have days where expressing gratitude feels challenging. Allow yourself permission to ebb and flow through this practice. If you’re feeling stuck on a bad day or find yourself struggling with mental health symptoms, the following questions might be helpful to refocus and refuel yourself with gratitude:

Today might feel difficult, but what is one small thing I can feel grateful for? A loved one at home with me? Snacks in the cupboard? Comfortable clothing? A cozy blanket? A working television? Art supplies? My journal for writing? Technology for staying in touch?

Today might feel difficult, but what inner resources do I have that I feel grateful for?  My sense of humor? My compassion for others? My strength? My curiosity? My good taste in music? My attention to details? My ability to problem-solve? My creativity?

Today might feel difficult, but what experience from the past week can I feel grateful for?  When I had a productive remote-work day? When I got to sleep in on the weekend? When the weather was nice outside? When I took my dog to the park? When I worked on that scrapbook? When I virtually reconnected with an old friend?

From my home to yours, wishing you a safe, warm, and peaceful Thanksgiving.

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