Today, as COVID-19 social distancing, quarantines and hoarding occupy our minds and cause worldwide anxiety, I want to share a practice that has helped me stay semi-grounded over the past few years: visual gratitude journaling. And like many gratitude journal stories, this one began during a particularly low time in my life.
About three years ago, I was loving my work in healthcare design consulting and was a generally happy person. Then I suddenly hit a wall. It was only 6 months after the 2016 election (a difficult time for many of us); I was approaching my 40s, which data shows is a common time for mid-life blues; I was anxious about climate change; and I was dealing with some interpersonal issues. I became burned out and depressed. The sun was shining outside, but I felt a sense of doom and anxiety inside. I was scraping bottom, and I knew I needed a boost.
I’d heard about the benefits of gratitude journaling for years. From this NPR article, for example: “Studies have found that giving thanks and counting blessings can help people sleep better, lower stress and improve interpersonal relationships” and “[gratitude journaling] could lower your risk of heart disease and lower symptoms of depression for some people.” Keeping a gratitude journal always sounded like a good idea, but I hadn’t been able to make it a habit.
I also like to draw. I’ve been a doodler since I was a young child. Over the years I learned more about the benefits of drawing; for example, drawing can help reduce stress, stimulate creativity, and improve problem-solving. (Check out Cara Bean’s cute little online book ‘Why Draw?’ which outlines more key benefits of drawing.)
So I decided to start a visual gratitude journal:
- instead of just writing a list of what I was grateful for, I drew pictures of three things I was grateful for each day — including annotations (so I could understand my drawings later)
- I kept a little notebook in my office dedicated to this purpose
- I did my drawings each morning before starting my day.
Here are some recent entries: