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Bluebird’s Guide for Gratitude & Stress Relief

Gratitude rainbows

Learn how being thankful can actually rewire your brain and body chemistry.

Here’s a secret from psychologist and straight-talkin’ Texan Brené Brown: “It’s not possible to be stressed about something when you’re being grateful for it.”

Grateful. Thankful. We’re all familiar with these words, whether we’ve heard them around the Thanksgiving table or seen them used as a hashtag on Instagram. An extension of mindfulness, gratitude and thankfulness have become major buzzwords as a way to counteract the effect of hustle and bustle in a society that makes working overtime synonymous with self-worth.

April is National Stress Awareness Month and Bluebird Botanicals is here to offer you some tips and tricks to cultivate gratitude to manage stress and work, to alleviate some of the long-term side effects of chronically living in a state of hyperarousal.

Three quick tips for cultivating gratitude

Feeling more stressed than blessed? Here are three simple tips for integrating a gratitude practice into your daily life. This list is far from exhaustive but takes less than two minutes to read and implement.

1. Focus on your senses and surroundings.

Name just three things you can see, smell, touch, taste, hear or feel in your immediate area for which you are grateful. These can be anything: I’m grateful for a blue sky, the sound of music, my own two feet.

Name just three things you can see, smell, touch, taste, hear or feel in your immediate area for which you are grateful. These can be anything: I’m grateful for a blue sky, the sound of music, my own two feet.

gratitude heart
2. Practice the 17-second rule.

Our brains are hard-wired to hold onto negative experiences and encounters, but choosing to keep a positive thought in our mind for just 17 seconds can cause our neural pathways to shift. This shift paves the wave for a more positive outlook and a lasting reduction of stress hormones. It can be as simple as “I’m thankful that I’m breathing,” or “I’m grateful that I’m working to change the way I think.” Just make sure to hold onto it for 17 seconds straight.

3. Start a wellness routine.

Again, this can be simple and straightforward. Don’t put pressure on yourself to immediately carve out 20 minutes to meditate every morning. Start by adding something you appreciate into your day at a time of your choosing, and try to include it in your daily routine. It can be standing in a power pose while brushing your teeth, closing your eyes and taking four deep breaths, drinking a cup of tea in silence, or savoring a dropper full of CBD. Take an extra moment to thank yourself for the activity each time you practice the routine.

Still feeling too busy to integrate gratitude into your daily routine? Try a guided sleep meditation like this one and let your subconscious do the work.

If you’ve got a little more time to spend with us today, read on for a bit more about why we experience stress, why gratitude works, and how to integrate it into your daily, hourly, and momentary thinking.

Why are we stressed?

Stress is part of being alive. It’s the body’s natural response to an anxiety trigger or a sign of danger. It’s evolutionarily wired into us for survival. Stress is what motivated our ancestors to make smart decisions in high-risk situations — like avoiding being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger consequently and why we’re here today.

stress and gratitude

Stress is something that is universal to humankind, regardless of genetics, lifestyle or level of resilience, and the common threads for what cause stress can be boiled down to what drives us NUTS:

  • Novelty
  • Unpredictability
  • Threat to the ego
  • Sense of Control

These factors in combination are essentially the formula for stress. They threaten our familiarity and comfort, so it’s only natural that they produce a backlash of alarm and resistance.

Stress causes the brain to trigger the production of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While our ancestors experienced these stress hormones as responses to immediate, life-threatening challenges, our society has evolved in such a way that existing in everyday life results in the frequent release of stress hormones.

Constant connectivity means that we’re never really “off work,” with employees checking emails and answering calls well into the evening hours. Rising costs of living have resulted in longer commutes or multiple jobs, which in turn means an increase in the stress derived from working farther and harder. With the “no pain, no gain,” and “buck up” mindsets, these factors have become normalized to the extent that we don’t even allow ourselves rest or reprieve from these daily stressors. We don’t view them as ways we’re performing above and beyond — it’s just meeting expectations, and adjusting to a “new normal.”

No matter how much stress may be part of the human experience and modern society, biologically it’s not intended to be a long-term state of being and is not sustainable as one. Research has shown that chronic stress can have negative health impacts including sleep irregularity, high blood pressure, poor mental health and more. Given the potential impact of chronic long-term stress, it’s important to find ways to integrate stress relief into your busy lifestyle. A gratitude practice is an excellent tool for dialing down your cortisol (the stress hormone) and ramping up your oxytocin (the happy hormone)!

The negativity bias

gratitude pug

Part of what makes the seemingly simple practice of gratitude so difficult is another evolutionary trait of the human brain: the negativity bias.

The negativity bias refers to the tendency of the human brain to give more weight to negative experiences than positive ones. Negative thoughts are immediately transferred to long-term memory, whereas it takes a conscious effort of maintaining a positive thought to really absorb and process it. It’s been shown that it tends to take about five positive interactions to make up for a single bad one.

Think about the last time you had a performance review at work; your boss may have noted 20 things you’ve done extremely well but you walk away ruminating over the one thing identified as an “area for improvement.” How about taking a compliment? It’s more likely than not that your response, rather than being grateful for the sincere appreciation, is a denial or deflection of the praise at worst or an embarrassed “thank you,” at best.

So, what can you do about it?

Be the trailblazer of your own positivity

A gratitude practice has been scientifically proven to change your brain. I know, I know. It’s difficult to be grateful when you barely have time to remember to breathe. But even taking 17 seconds to hold onto a positive thought can actually start to rewire your brain and — you guessed it — start to reduce your stress response.

You may have heard of automatic thoughts. This is a concept from the cognitive-behavioral therapy model that describes our immediate mental responses to prompting events. Think about if you see someone frowning in your general direction and your first assumption is that they are unhappy with you, that you’ve done something wrong. More likely than not, that person is caught in their own preoccupations, which have nothing to do with you (this is a pretty good example of what the popular book The Four Agreements means when it says to “not take things personally.”) But the thought that flashes in your mind momentarily already starts to trigger an emotional and physical reaction to the perceived threat of rejection.

Changing automatic thoughts can be compared with the decision to avoid taking a superhighway in favor of choosing to machete your way through an overgrown path to your destination. It’s far from a cakewalk. But the fact is that happiness isn’t something that happens to you; it’s an experience you have to actively cultivate by teaching your brain to marinate in the good.

Neurons that fire together, wire together

This phrase was first utilized by neuropsychologist Donald Hebb in 1949 to describe how the brain forms and reinforces pathways and networks through repetition. You may be familiar with how this plays out in the context of learning a new task or skill, but it also impacts how you view your world in daily life.

We mentioned earlier three “quick tips” for integrating gratitude as a stress reliever, but here are a few other offerings that you can practice daily, hourly, and in the moment to help begin the shift towards a less stressed, positive way of thinking!

By the day
Practice gratitude for your body.

Every body is different and should be celebrated in all of its unique glory. Try not to be critical of your body. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself if you find your thoughts are becoming unkind. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend, your child, or another loved one. Take some time each day to appreciate what your body does for you; your heart pumps without any conscious effort from you, and that’s a reason to be grateful.

Another way to be thankful for your body is through movement. You don’t have to run a marathon; simply taking a short walk around the block or a stretch at your desk will do the trick. The important thing is to find what feels good for you and incorporate it into your daily routine.

By the hour
gratitude little things
Reflect on the positive takeaways.

This one can be a challenge, particularly if you’re having one of those dreaded “bad days.” If you find yourself looking at the last hour through a negative lens, describe the facts from an objective standpoint. Take careful note of the positives. Again, they can be small: I had a delicious cup of coffee, my back didn’t hurt as badly as it typically does, I didn’t let the person who cut me off in traffic derail my morning. Allow yourself to savor the experience of what it feels like to reflect on the good.

Remember that the mind tends to weigh the negatives more heavily than the positives, so, for every automatic negative thought, try to come up with three good things to counteract its impact. Practicing this hourly throughout the day, even for just a minute at a time, can start to create a lasting habit of fostering a happier, lighter way of life.

By the moment
Practice self-compassion.

If there is one lesson to take away from National Stress Awareness Month, self-compassion would be it. Taking care of yourself is actually one of the most generous things you can do; it allows you to restore your balance and respond to potential stressors from a more grounded place. It also helps you enact kindness to those around you, and thus supports a more positive trickle-down effect to the people you interact with. You might just help someone else have a better day simply by taking care of yourself. Each moment, take pride in your successes and be thankful for challenges. Be gentle with yourself. Remember that difficult is not synonymous with bad, and that the greatest opportunities for growth are often borne of discomfort.

In the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Gratitude at Bluebird Botanicals

At Bluebird Botanicals, gratitude is an integral part of our company culture. From highlighting the accomplishments of our team through employee spotlights to making CBD radically accessible to all through assistance programs and giving back to organizations like Conscious Alliance that support those most in need, Bluebird makes it a priority to acknowledge and say thank you to every member of our flock.

We’d love to hear from our fellow birds on how you incorporate gratitude in your daily life to alleviate stress. Email us at [email protected] to share with us for a chance to win a 1 oz bottle of any Bluebird CBD product of your choice. Bluebird will select a random winner on May 17.

You can also purchase Bluebird CBD today and have it shipped direct to your door.

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