How A Gratitude Practice Can Help You Recover From Burnout

BY Whitney Gordon-Mead        September 19, 2019

“The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateful for what you have right now. And the more grateful you are, the more you get.” - Oprah Winfrey

What are you grateful for?

When Oprah says the more grateful you are the more you get, she’s right. And that includes more healing to help you recover from burnout.

I know what you’re thinking…

“Can practicing gratitude really help me get over being burned out?”

The truth is yes, it can.

The organization Workplace Strategies For Mental Health cites numerous cases of people whose burnout recovery has been supported by writing daily in a gratitude journal to help them refocus their mind on the positive aspects of their life.

Digging deeper into the research uncovers some undeniable facts. Let’s take a look.

The Scientifically-Supported Benefits Of Gratitude

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California–Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have conducted much of the existing research on gratitude. Several years ago they published an article, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” about an experiment they performed on gratitude and its impact on well-being. 

They followed several hundred people who were split into three groups and asked to keep daily diaries, with instructions as follows: 

Group 1 – Note events that occur during the day with no particular focus on good or bad.

Group 2 – Record only unpleasant experiences.

Group 3 – Make a daily list of things that inspire gratitude.

You’ll be astonished at the results.

Daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of:

  • Alertness 
  • Enthusiasm 
  • Determination 
  • Optimism
  • Energy

In addition, those in the gratitude group:

  • experienced less depression and stress 
  • were more likely to help others 
  • exercised more regularly 
  • made greater progress toward achieving personal goals

What I’d Forgotten When I Was Burned Out

Several years ago, I found myself in full-blown burnout. I became so focused on trying to do too much that I stopped allotting time to my many feel-good practices, including feeling gratitude for all the blessings in my life. Then, when I was struggling with burnout, I felt frustrated: “Why me? Why am I so tired? Why can’t I do anything?” 

I couldn’t muster gratitude for the burnout symptoms. All I could see were struggles and challenges. Blessings were nowhere to be found. 

Does this sound familiar? You might relate to looking at your life and seeing only negative.

Then, during one of my Somatic Experiencing practices, I began to listen to my body. This time, however, it was with an intense desire to heal from burnout. I received a message that holding on to frustration was not going to support my healing. That message was a wake-up call for me.

Just then, a book on my inspirational bookshelf caught my eye. I hadn’t looked at it in more than a decade, yet it called to me. The book is titled Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, by Sarah Ban Breathnach.

As I read through the first several pages of the book, the January 13th essay header, “Gratitude: Awakening the Heart,” grabbed my attention. The phrase, “The more I focused on lack and on what I couldn’t have, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more I focused on lack,” leapt out at me.

Maybe you can relate?

I’d spent day after day in a horizontal position, struggling with burnout, feeling ever-more depressed while focusing on what I couldn’t do. I was trapped in the same cycle Sarah had described.

Sarah went on to say, “At that moment I acknowledged the deep longing in my heart. What I hungered for was an inner peace that the world could not take away… I looked at my life with open eyes. I saw that I had much for which to be grateful. I felt humbled by my riches and regretted that I took for granted the abundance that already existed in my life. How could I expect more from the Universe when I didn’t appreciate what I already had?” 

It was as though she was speaking directly to me. I, too, wanted that inner peace. But I had been taking for granted the abundance that was already in my life. 

In short, I had forgotten to be grateful.

How Gratitude Helped Me Recover From Burnout (And Can Help You Too)

Writings by Christine Breese, DD, PhD, further confirm that a gratitude practice can help you with your emotional well-being. According to Dr. Breese, “The practice of gratitude and appreciation is a powerful way to create a positive reality." That’s what I wanted to create! I was determined to create a positive reality for myself. 

As part of my healing-from-burnout journey, I began counting my blessings and choosing to refocus on being grateful for what I had, instead of what I lacked. Each day I wrote down 3 to 10 things that I was grateful for in my journal. My discovery of research showing the benefits of a gratitude practice inspired me to be consistent with my attitude of gratitude. Although it was difficult for me at first, that mental state has grown stronger with use and practice.

Through a consistent practice of gratitude, I started experiencing a greater sense of well-being. I felt less depressed, less stressed, more aware and motivated, and increasingly optimistic. Upon reflection, I now see that by giving thanks I was also receiving that which I was giving thanks for in even greater abundance. 

If you’re burned out, chances are you have a Type-A personality. You’re always on the go, forever busy. You don’t slow down to receive. Yet there is something powerful about practicing gratitude, and not merely as another item on your to-do list. Rather, consider it an invitation to slow your pace and receive all the blessings in your life. 

With gratitude, you acknowledge the goodness in your life. In the process, you’ll realize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside yourself. As a result, gratitude can help you connect more strongly to something larger than yourself — your higher power. 

Are You Ready To Cultivate An Attitude Of Gratitude?

As you acknowledge appreciation for what you’re given, the Universe sees fit to give you more to be grateful for. You’ll manifest more good things in your life. This has been true for me, and I have no doubt it can be true for you too. In fact, research shows that people who are more grateful are happier, more satisfied with their lives, and less likely to suffer from burnout.

It’s so easy to get started with a gratitude practice...

What’s one thing you’re grateful for? Write it down and make this action a daily habit starting today.

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Whitney Gordon-Mead

Whitney Gordon-Mead, MSc is a Speaker, Certified Life Coach, and Ordained Minister. With 3 decades of experience researching personal growth and how we heal from within, she healed herself from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and burnout. Her strategies help women avoid and recover from burnout, and she partners with them to reclaim their passion and create the life they desire. Having experienced first-hand the challenges of finding physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance, Whitney believes that life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured!!! You’ll find Whitney’s gift: “From Burnout To Balance: A Simple 10-Minute Daily Self-Care Practice” at WhitneyGordon-Mead.com.

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