Is Gratitude the Answer to Anxiety?

Finals are right around the corner for Tech students, causing more and more stress during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Anxiety is rising among individuals and is doing so rapidly in the lives of young people ages 18 to 25. 

Even before COVID-19, anxiety in college-aged students nearly doubled across a 10-year period. The National Library of Medicine conducted an experiment evaluating anxiety across different age levels from 2008 to 2018 and found, “Stratification by age revealed the most notable increase from 7.97% to 14.66% among respondents 18–25 years old.” In 2020 alone, COVID-19 triggered a 25% increase in anxiety. 

As we enter into the month of November, thankfulness is on the mind of many. However, the forefront of a college student’s mind is most likely on finals and end of semester projects, causing stress to rise during what the rest of America considers the time of the year to be the most grateful. 

How can gratitude and anxiety be compared this time of the year? What do these two things have to do with each other? It is as simple as this: gratitude is the answer to anxiety.

In 2004, Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough did a study on gratitude and its effects against anxiety. They recorded their findings in a book titled, “The Little Book of Gratitude.” In their research, they found that gratitude lessens stress. After conducting an experiment, the participants who practiced gratitude showed a reduction in the level of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. 

However, the most profound thing revealed in this study was that not only does gratitude lessen stress, but gratitude and anxiety cannot exist in the brain at the same time. Therefore, a possible solution to when we feel anxious is practicing gratitude.

Here are some ways to begin practicing gratitude in your everyday life:

  • Keep a gratitude journal and write in it every morning and night.
  • Tell your friends and family you love them and specifiy reasons why you are thankful for them.
  • Start a photo diary of things you are thankful for.
  • Compliment others and grant positive recognition to others.
  • When you begin to think negative thoughts, find one thing to be grateful for in that moment.
  • Say thank you for little things.

This leaves the question: what exactly is gratitude? Robert Emmons states, “Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received… We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.” 

To sum it up, Emmons and McCullough define gratitude as a two step process:

  1. “Recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome.”
  2. “Recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.”

As we enter the month of Thanksgiving and college finals, now is the perfect time to begin practicing gratitude in your life.