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Welcome to our second lesson in our five-week series on self-appreciation. Two weeks ago, I sent out a newsletter in which I described a two-minute breathing exercise to switch your nervous system from the flight-or-fight mode to the rest-and-digest one. That was followed by last week’s article in which I talked about the importance of starting your day right.

Today, I am going to recommend keeping a gratitude journal. The effects of gratitude in human psychology have been well documented for years. Studies have compared adults who regularly  wrote down things they were grateful for to others who wrote down things that irritated them. Those in the gratitude group scored higher on scales measuring motivation and fulfillment. It came as no surprise that they also took better care of themselves and saw their doctors less. Start keeping a gratitude journal today, and measure the long-term effects for yourself.

I recommend doing this as you start your workday, especially if you’re following last week’s advice and doing the morning self-appreciation routine. Beginning work by writing in your gratitude journal sets your mind into a frame of positivity and moves your emotional state towards having a less stressful workday. 

You don’t have to keep a fancy Journal; notes on your smartphone would suffice. Many times when I ask my patients if they have started the gratitude journal I have been recommending, they respond with something like “no I haven’t bought a special journal yet,” or “no, my fountain pen broke and I’ve ordered a new one.” We are not trying to create a piece of poetic art here that will be displayed in a museum for generations to see! The idea is simply to have something that’s readily available both to write in, and to reference when you need to. 

Get creative with your gratitude journal and have fun. Try not to repeat the same gratitudes every day. Every time I say to my patients to keep a gratitude journal, they immediately start listing them to me verbally. Predictably, it’s always the same list; family, loved ones, having a home, a job, a car, etc. These are extremely important to be grateful for! By all means, write them down in your journal in all caps and highlight and underline them too. But don’t stop there. List new things. If you are grateful for having a son, then list something specific, like “I am glad my son laughed at my joke this morning. That was a special moment.” If you are grateful for having a job, then write down “I am grateful for having the opportunity to contribute to the development of this new thing.” 

You can be more abstract in your creativity as well. I am always grateful for the blues skies and the changing clouds. They make a lot of guest appearances in my journal, as do hummingbirds, rabbits, crows, and squirrels I may see on any given day. Looking for new things to write in your gratitude journal opens your eyes to all the miracles that surround you, and keeps you from taking them for granted.

When you’re faced with a difficult situation in the day and you feel your frustrations rising, take a moment and glance over your Gratitude Journal. Read what you wrote a few days ago or maybe even earlier this morning. Allow this to reset your frame of mind. If you find that you often forget to write in this journal, set a reminder on your phone for a specific time in the day. This exercise takes one or two minutes to do, so there are no excuses for missing it. 

As always, if you do this exercise, let me know how it went. I love hearing everyone’s stories!

Personal story: when I first started seeking treatment for Lyme disease, I learned that the medical community, especially the Infectious Disease Society, does not believe in the existence of “Chronic Lyme Disease.” As a result, insurance companies will not pay for long term antibiotic treatment, and IV treatment can get expensive. At the time, I had just finished my residency and gone through a divorce, and was financially strapped. I was living off of the money I had acquired from selling the home my first husband and I had together while I was starting my private practice. I ended up spending that entire money on treatment, and went into significant debt. It took about 8 years to pay off all of my debts and come out financially even. 

There are two ways I can look at my Lyme disease treatment. The first is that I can feel sorry for myself that this disease set me back financially by about ten years. The second is that I can thank heaven and earth and all the stars in the sky that I found the financial means to pay for my treatment. As you can guess, I picked the second option. Words cannot possibly express the gratitude I feel on a daily basis for having been able to finance my treatment (which if you are curious, in total cost about $67,000 out of pocket, not including lost wages, etc.). Today I am in the best shape possible for my age and medical history. I just spent two weeks in the beautiful national parks of Utah and Arizona, and hiked between 3 to 7 miles daily. My gratitude is immeasurable.

Sayeh Beheshti, M.D.

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