The Healing Power of Gratitude for Cancer Survivors

The Healing Power of Gratitude for Cancer Survivors

5 Practical Steps You Can Take This Week to Cultivate Gratitude in Your Life

by Lakeshia Cousin, MS, APRN, AGPCNP-BC

All of us have expressed a heartfelt “thank you” for receiving a gift, support, or a second chance. This acknowledgment of goodness is known as gratitude

Did you know that gratitude has healing benefits that can improve your mental and physical health? Research has shown that practicing gratitude can boost your resilience to stress, promote well-being, and reduce depression. In addition, gratitude interventions have been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation, and improve immunity. 

For cancer survivors, practicing gratitude can play a key role in developing healthy ways to cope in times of stress. For example, a recent study of breast cancer survivors who took part in a gratitude program for six weeks noticed that they no longer worried constantly about their cancer returning. 

Engaging in daily gratitude activities and exercises, such as reflection or journaling, can help you develop a gratitude practice that can improve your quality of life and overall well-being. Here are 5 practical steps you can take this week to cultivate gratitude in your life.

1. Keep a gratitude journal. For 15 minutes at least twice a week, write down up to five things you are grateful for. These items can range from the remarkably small (“I was able to walk one mile today”) to the incredibly large (“Today was my last chemotherapy treatment”). The goal of gratitude journaling is to take note of a good experience, person, or object in your life and savor the goodness that it has brought you. When writing in your journal, whether it’s a traditional paper diary or a digital one, be as specific as possible. “I’m grateful for my husband taking me to dinner last night” is more effective than “I’m thankful for my marriage.” Studies have shown that individuals have a healthier resting heart rate while they are gratitude journaling.

2. Practice gratitude mediation. Devote time daily to think through five to ten things you are grateful for. While you are meditating, picture in your mind the feeling of gratitude in your body. Practicing gratitude meditation every day will help you develop a gratitude habit that can rewire your brain and lower your heart rate. Research suggests that gratitude meditation stimulates brain regions related to emotion and motivation. 

3. Take gratitude walks. Spend 15 to 20 minutes walking outside by yourself every day, around the same time of day, for a week. During your walk, look around you and notice as many positive aspects of your surroundings as you can. For instance, the warm feeling of sunshine on your skin or the smell of flowers in bloom. Try a different route each day, as the change in your surroundings can help you avoid taking things for granted, which is what often happens when something becomes routine and familiar. 


Take It a Step Further
Resources for Cultivating Greater Gratitude 

• Thnx4 is an online gratitude journal. Registering for Thnx4 launches a Gratitude Challenge where you’ll be prompted to document and share your gratitude for a set amount of time. Once your challenge concludes, you can select how you’d like to receive reminders to use Thnx4 moving forward: daily, weekly, monthly, or self-paced.
• Gratitude – Happiness Journal: Available in the App Store for iOS devices, this mobile app offers daily prompts, in addition to a private journal, to help you along your gratitude journey. 
• Greater Good Magazine ( Published online by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, Greater Good magazine turns scientific research into stories, tips, and tools for a happier life and a more compassionate society.

4. Write a gratitude letter. Think about someone who did something nice for you but to whom you never had the chance to express your gratitude. This could be a family member, caregiver, or healthcare provider. Write them a letter and describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are so grateful, and how this person made you feel. Don’t forget to give them the letter so they can keep it as a memento.

5. Create a gratitude wall. Find a spot in your home or office where you can create a small wall of positive messages. You can use a large bulletin board or even poster board. Leave notepads and pens nearby so you can easily post a note about something you are grateful for whenever the notion strikes you. You can also welcome others in your home to take part in this gratitude activity. Take time to view and reflect on your gratitude wall often.

Lakeshia CousinLakeshia Cousin is a fulltime PhD student working as a nurse researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. Her research focuses on examining the impact of gratitude on self-management of chronic disease.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2019.