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A valuable companion for daily life with chronic illness

October 28, 2019

Here's a fascinating finding that has been proven in many international studies: feeling gratitude has significant effects on our emotional well-being, our satisfaction and lust for life, and even our physical health.

Why is that? Well, our brain is primarily focused on perceiving problems, difficulties and worries in order to be able to solve them. That's how it works. If you don't consciously decide to pay attention to positive things in everyday life, you are minimizing your chances of really noticing them. Focusing on these "grateful moments" can prevent the onset of psychological problems and strengthen the soul. The theory goes like this: unpleasant feelings such as fear and anxiety cannot exist at the same time as a feeling of gratitude. So the more we train gratitude, the less we leave room for unpleasant feelings. Of course, this is especially important when living with a chronic illness. So as well as noting any symptoms and challenges you face, it's good to learn to keep an eye on the small positive moments in everyday life.

And physically? Gratitude is believed to activate the vagus nerve in the human body, which is part of our body's own resting system, the so-called parasympathetic nervous system. This reduces chronic stress, which leads to greater serenity. At the same time, inflammation markers are reduced, pain is alleviated and the quality of sleep improves. After a while, some of these positive changes even become visible as neurobiological changes in the brain scan – fascinating, right?

It takes some practice and stamina though, because gratitude needs to be trained, just like a muscle, to achieve positive effects. That's why we at Vila have integrated a digital gratitude journal into the app, in addition to the psychological program. It will help you to become aware of the small positive and valuable moments of everyday life on a regular basis.

Here are our tips for achieving positive effects:

  1. Regular practice is important, but it doesn't take a huge effort. For example, when you're in bed and about to go to sleep, just spend 5 minutes each day adding to your gratitude journal. This can develop into an enjoyable routine that helps you fall asleep while contemplating positive thoughts.
  2. Vila gives you a choice of questions to answer, depending on what you are feeling at that moment. A journal entry might just consist of a few keywords. It's important to keep up the habit, which means briefly recording your thoughts every day if possible.
  3. Besides your big and obvious positive moments and joyful events, concentrate on the small moments as well. But what if it was a bad day, with troublesome symptoms and annoyances, and you're struggling to find any positive? Then think about it, wasn't there perhaps a smile from a stranger after all? Maybe the sun was shining? There really are countless small and beautiful moments to be grateful for – but you have to learn to see them.

So, what are you waiting for? Register here and get started with Vila's gratitude journal. It's completely free. Take the next step to greater well-being and quality of life – despite and with your illness.

Sources:

Kini P., Wong J., McInnis S. et al. (2015).
The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity. Neuroimage 128:1-10.

Emmons R. A., & Mishra A. (2012). Why gratitude enhances well-being: What we know, what we need to know. In Sheldon, K., Kashdan, T., & Steger, M.F. (Eds.) Designing the future of positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mills P.J., Redwine L., Wilson K. et al. (2015)
The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients. Spiritual Clin Pract. 2015 Mar: 2(1):5-17.

Allen S. (2018).
White paper: The Science of Gratitude. Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

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