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Cultivating gratitude and hope during cancer treatment

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iStock_000003443440Small.jpgBy Brianna Garrison and Sarah Hines, social work counselors

"In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times."
― Robert Emmons

Gratitude is a conscious decision that allows us to gain perspective by viewing a situation through an alternate lens. Cultivating gratitude can help those affected by cancer cope.

While it can be difficult to feel grateful during cancer treatment, gratitude makes it possible to remain realistic about the negative impacts of a cancer diagnosis and still identify potential benefits or areas of personal growth.

Cancer patients, survivors and caregivers have told us they've used gratitude to find some of
the following benefits during their cancer experience:

  • Closer relationships with family members and friends
  • Reevaluation of priorities
  • Taking control of a personal health situation
  • Spiritual and personal growth
  • Setting and achieving new goals
  • Greater flexibility, patience, and resilience

How gratitude can help during cancer treatment
Often, people assume gratitude is merely ignoring any difficulties they are facing and only focusing on the positive. But in reality, practicing gratitude gives people the ability accept whatever their current challenges are while still finding joy throughout their struggle. Research shows that there are many benefits from practicing gratitude.  

Gratitude can:
  • Increase our resilience in the face of stress and crisis
  • Open us up to new opportunities and experiences  
  • Impact our physical responses, including lowered blood pressure, increased immunity and reduced stress, which may lower our risks for health complications
  • Bring an increase in healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise, preventive health care and healthy diet
  • Contribute to more satisfying relationships with friends, family and our respective communities
How to cultivate gratitude
Engaging in daily activities and exercises, such as reflection and journaling, may help to cultivate a habit of gratitude Use this list to help kick-start your practice of gratitude.

  • Gratitude journal: Make a New Year's resolution to write down what you're grateful for daily or weekly.
  • Four minutes of gratitude:Set a timer for four minutes and write down everything you are grateful for. Reflecting on this entry during times of distress or unhappiness can help put the brain into the mode of gratitude.
  • Gratitude reminder: Pick something you see every day in your bedroom, office, classroom, hospital room, etc., that redirects you towards gratitude. Focus on this item during difficult times.
  • Gratitude hot seat: Take turns during get-togethers with family and friends this month to verbalize your gratitude towards each other.
  • Gratitude letters: Write a letter, send a note or mail a holiday card to someone who has had an impact on you. Use the opportunity to express your appreciation for how this person's actions have impacted you.
  • Situation reframe: Identify a negative situation and try to identify any positive aspects or benefits that have resulted from it.
  • Gratitude guided imagery: Take time to yourself to reflect on the things, situations and people that have contributed positively to your life.
  • Benefits list: Create a list of things of things in your life that you are grateful for.  Reflect on how these are often taken for granted or how your life would be different if they were absent.
With consistent use of these exercises, you may begin to make gratitude part of your daily routine and see the positive impacts gratitude has on you and your family members. The best aspect of practicing gratitude is that you can do it anywhere, any time, and it is never too late to start.

For more information on practicing gratitude or on coping throughout the holiday season, contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195 or ask your nurse or doctor to speak with a Social Work Counselor.

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