With Thanksgiving almost upon us, we want to share some of the ways that Hillside helps young people to use gratitude to make their own lives and the lives of others more fulfilling and healthy.

There is plenty of research out there today to support the premise that gratitude increases mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, all of which are linked together. Life today, for many people, is filled with a fast-paced, have to fit it all in, robust lifestyle. This oftentimes lends way to feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed and defeated when we get the sense we don’t live up to perceived expectations of others/society.

Gratitude is one of the DBT skills that we practice at Hillside as a way to slow things down, appreciate what we have, appreciate others and even appreciate the difficult times in our lives.

Here are 3 exercises that you can try yourself, or share with family and friends.

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

You may have already heard that keeping a journal can improve mental health, but have you ever tried writing down all the things that you’re grateful for? When we’re facing challenges in life we can sometimes filter out the good things that happen to us, leaving us to focus on the negative. Studies show that listing 5-7 things that you’re grateful for each day can help to shift mindset after 90 days. The journal creates a domino effect where positivity accumulates and instead of us framing our day by thinking about a meeting that didn’t go well, an argument with a friend or getting caught in the rain, we’re able to see what went right, like a favourite TV show, a friend checking in on us or a good meal. It can also be useful to read over when we have difficult days and need a reminder of the positives in our lives. Give it a try and see if you can reframe mental health with a gratitude journal.

2. The Pay It Forward Jar

Contribution plays a big part in our wellbeing. The Pay it Forward Jar works by putting money in a jar to represent the things we are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be a large amount, even a couple of cents, just something that represents our gratitude for something every day. At the end of the month you can use the money to buy cookies, flowers or another treat for somebody else. At Hillside, some of our kids have made get well cards and delivered them to sick kids at the Children’s Hospital. “Contributing” in this way helps us to feel good about ourselves while also experiencing how other people manage adversity in their lives. It’s a great way to teach kids about small acts of kindness and not comparing our problems to others but to count our blessings.

3. Growing through adversity

We’ve all heard the saying “when life give you lemons, make lemonade.” Children that suffer trauma and loss can struggle to make sense of what has happened to them and will often ask “why me?” A tool that our therapists at Hillside use is to ask kids to consider what they’ve learned from a painful experience. Has it made them more compassionate to others experiencing similar things? Have they learned skills that now help them in other areas of their lives? Can you think of a something that didn’t go as well as you wanted it to? Did you miss out on making the football team? Perhaps a colleague got the promotion you wanted? Did you lose a friendship that mattered to you?

So maybe missing out on the football team introduced you to another sport or you were able to focus on your fitness and try out the following year. Losing out to someone else for the promotion encouraged you to find a mentor and develop your skills. Did you learn about communication, personal boundaries and healing through that missed friendship? Whereas it’s important not to minimise painful experiences from our past, finding something positive can help us to reframe our thinking and help us to grow.

Christina Fiddes consulted with us on the exercises in this post.
Christina is a Lead Therapist at Hillside and A DBT-Linehan Board of Certification Certified Therapist. Sign up to our newsletter and receive more ideas from our therapists on taking care of your mental health. Next month we’ll be sharing how to have a happy, healthy, holiday season.

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