How Gratitude Helps Combat Depression in Teens

Depression is a condition that often responds to and improves with lifestyle changes in addition to therapy and, in some cases, medication. Some lifestyle changes, such as getting more sleep and exercising each day, are simple to put into effect. Others, however, like cultivating an attitude of gratitude, might seem more elusive. Working on being more grateful can help you combat depression symptoms and make your depression easier to treat. Here are a few ways in which gratitude helps to combat depression, as well as some tips on being more thankful in your everyday life.

1. Gratitude Can Give You a New Perspective

When you’re struggling with depression, it can be difficult to get your mind off of your troubles. You might be in physical pain and you’re certainly in emotional pain. Focusing on things that you’re grateful for can help you change your perspective a bit.

How? You might need to start small; for example, maybe you don’t feel like you can get out of bed, but you can still be grateful for having a comfortable bed, a soft pillow, a warm blanket.

As you look for more and more things to be grateful for, you’ll find more and more to add to your list. It’s similar to the phenomenon that happens when you buy a new car: You start seeing “your” car everywhere. You never knew that there were so many Priuses or Altimas (and in your color, too!). Of course, there aren’t any more of your particular kind of car on the road; you’re just noticing them. The same thing happens when you start to look for little things to be grateful for: they just keep showing up.

2. Gratitude Can Help You Smile

When you’re depressed, you might not smile much. It can be hard to think of something to smile about when you are feeling overwhelmed, distressed, and hopeless. Keeping your mind open to the things that you are thankful for can help you smile more. Smiling is not only contagious to others, but it also begets more smiling. You might have heard the advice to fake a smile until it’s real, and it really does work. When you are grateful, however, you won’t even have to fake it!

3. Gratitude Can Get You Out of the House

One way that you can show gratitude is to thank others in the community for whatever they are doing to help you or other people. If you challenge yourself to go in a store and thank the checkout clerk, that will give you a mission and get you out of the house. Leaving the house is one way to get some exercise, spend a bit of time in the sun, and interact with others; all of these can help combat depression.

4. Gratitude Can Help You Be More Social

Speaking of interacting with others, increasing the amount of time you spend socializing with other people can help combat depression symptoms. Gratitude can include volunteering, and by its nature, volunteering puts you in contact with other people. You will be interacting with not only the people you’re helping but also other volunteers. The shared interest can blossom into a friendship based on shared ideals, and that can be a non-threatening way to further interact. With all of the extra smiling you’ll be doing as you remember what you’re thankful for, you’ll be more likely to make friends, too!

5. Gratitude Can Help You Sleep Better

Sleep deprivation is very common in the teen years. According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the average teenager needs 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night. Most are getting around seven hours each night. A lack of sleep can impact school performance, make teens more likely to develop depression, and even suppress the immune system.

Taking a few minutes at the end of each day to think or journal about what you’re grateful for can make it easier for you to drift off to sleep. The mental and physical effects of getting enough sleep can boost teen health significantly

6. Gratitude Can Make Your Heart Healthier

You might not realize it, but being more grateful can boost your heart health. There’s evidence that gratitude can do the following:

  • boost the amount of time someone spends exercising
  • lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • reduce the incidence of heart disease

One reason this might be is that people who are grateful are more likely than others to volunteer to help others in the community. For teens who are often sedentary due to the demands of school and homework and the pleasure of video games and texting, getting out and helping others can add physical movement to their day that they otherwise might not get. This can improve heart health. Gratitude also reduces stress, which is great for reducing high blood pressure and ultimately improving teen health.

7. Gratitude Can Reduce Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Another way in which gratitude can improve teen health is by minimizing symptoms of depression and anxiety. If you are struggling with either of these mental health concerns, you might take steps toward being more grateful. This works by distracting the person, encouraging them to focus on the positive, and, often, getting them out of the house and doing things with other people. All of these, coupled with lifestyle changes like more exercise and more sleep (both of which gratitude helps with), can reduce symptoms and make life easier for those struggling with anxiety or depression.

8. Gratitude Can Help You Live Longer

With all of the mental and physical benefits of gratitude, practicing it can help you live longer. You might not think it’s much of an issue now because you are so young. Keep in mind, however, that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a lifelong habit. Getting into that habit during the teen years can stretch it across the rest of your life.

Tips for Cultivating Gratitude in Your Life

Sometimes it can be hard to know where to begin when it comes to cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Here are some tips on making thankfulness a habit:

Keep a Gratitude Journal

It’s not easy to remember what you’re grateful for on hard days, so writing it down can help. Getting into the habit of journaling about what’s going right in your world can help you remember all that you have going for you on your darkest days. Reread your list often! To start, you can simply list two or three things you’re thankful for at the end of each day. Another good idea is to use some gratitude journal prompts that you find online.

Talk About What You’re Grateful For

Saying out loud what you’re glad to have allows you to think it, say it, and hear yourself saying it. This is a great way to cement it into your mind. Also, if you say it to someone else, you’re telling them that you’re trying to see the bright side of life. If you’re thankful for a person, be sure to let them know!

Make a Solid Plan to Volunteer to Help Others

One way to show your gratitude for all that you have is to volunteer to work with or for people who don’t have as much as you do. You can do this by working directly with them, by doing behind-the-scenes work like making phone calls or addressing envelopes, or by contributing to the community by taking bottled water to firefighters or participating in a trap-neuter-release program to help control the feral cat population. Make a plan and write it on your calendar. You can also ask a friend or loved one to help hold you accountable.

Model Gratefulness to Children or Teens

If you are teaching someone else how to do something, it’s more likely to stick in your own mind. Gratitude is no exception! Talk to your kids or teens about why they should show more gratitude, then model it for them. Be sure to thank those who serve you, like waiters and receptionists. You should also write thank-you notes and thank your children for whatever they do for you. You’ll get the double advantage of being more grateful yourself while also inspiring your kids to show gratitude in their own lives.

Combat Depression With Gratitude

Being grateful is just one lifestyle choice you can make that can help combat depression. Of course, gratitude in itself is not a cure; you should still see your mental health specialist for counseling and, if it’s right for you, medication. Remember that depression is not a life sentence; you can get your condition under control once you and your doctor find the right combination of lifestyle changes, therapies, and medicine. Keeping yourself open to the power of gratitude can make your days more pleasant and help you to overcome your depression.

Further Reading