When I found out I was pregnant with my second, I immediately waged a preemptive strike on the postpartum depression that flattened me after my first was born. In an attempt to keep the fear, anxiety, and despair from once again taking over my life and driving a wedge between me and my baby, I started seeing a therapist and writing in a gratitude journal.
I "journaled" periodically throughout my tween, teen, and college years, and while reading through these journals offers up a walk down memory lane, the walk is anything but pleasant – nearly all of my journal entries center around angst and heartbreak.
The goal of a gratitude journal, however, falls at the opposite end of the spectrum. In each entry, you are required to write about something – anything, big or small – for which you are thankful. Instead of dwelling on how many times you put your toddler in timeout, you focus on how thankful you are that your partner came home from work 20 minutes early to relieve you. Instead of dwelling on how you spent an entire morning cleaning someone else's bodily fluids off the bathroom floor, you focus on how thankful you are that your baby’s afternoon nap lasted just long enough for you to take a shower.
According to researchers at UC-Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, the benefits of practicing gratitude span nearly every aspect of life. Study results show that people who take time to notice and reflect on the good in their lives experience more positive emotions like happiness and optimism, fewer negative emotions like loneliness and isolation, and less depression. These people also sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and have stronger immune systems.
Taking a moment at the end of every day to acknowledge and say thank you for a moment, experience, or person who made the day just a little bit brighter - even when the best you can come up with is "coffee" or "bedtime" - is one of the most positive coping mechanisms around.
By the grace of God, I never experienced a single symptom of postpartum depression - or even the baby blues, for that matter - after Hallie was born. I'll never know if the steps I took while pregnant or the way Hallie came into the world (Will's birth was pretty traumatic, while Hallie's birth was pretty perfect) made a difference, or if I was just given a pass the second time around. Either way, after writing throughout my pregnancy with Hallie and the first few months of her life, I was hooked on gratitude journals. Nine years later, I still keep one every November and every Lenten season.
As we embark on this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you, my fellow Mama Bears, to join me in keeping a gratitude journal. You certainly need not write in your journal every day throughout the month of November; instead try just writing every Sunday in November, or every day during the week of Thanksgiving. Whatever the case, I hope keeping a gratitude journal helps you stay strong and faithful and grateful for the simple gifts in life, just as it does me.