How a Gratitude Practice Can Improve Mental Health in College

woman with good mental health in college

Have you wondered if practicing gratitude actually makes a difference in your overall mental health? According to Mental Health First Aid, “Studies have found that a single act of thoughtful gratitude produces an immediate 10% increase in happiness, and a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms. These effects disappeared within three to six months, which reminds us to practice gratitude over and over.”

College Mental Health Challenges

College students today face unprecedented stressors. From the typical heavy course loads, time constraints, and financial pressures of university life, to navigating a post-pandemic world, often rife with external conflicts and concerns. It’s no wonder 41% of students report depressive symptoms, 36% report feelings of anxiety, and 14% have experienced suicidal thoughts in the past year, according to The Healthy Minds 2022-2023 Study.

Gratitude Can Improve Mental Health in College

In addition to seeking out on and off campus mental health resources, a simple yet incredibly effective way to improve mental health in college is implementing a regular gratitude practice. 

In a study of nearly 300 college students seeking mental health counseling, results identified that those students assigned to write gratitude letters as part of their treatment “reported significantly better mental health” four and twelve weeks after their counseling ended than peers who were not assigned a gratitude practice. 

As simple as it may seem, practicing gratitude can improve mental and physical health, and can actually change your brain.  Kim Francis, MD, psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute says, “[Gratitude] boosts dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters in the brain that improve your mood immediately, giving you those positive feelings of pleasure, happiness, and well-being. Each day, as we practice gratitude, we can help these neural pathways in our brain strengthen and ultimately create a permanent grateful, positive nature within ourselves.” 

Are you struggling with your mental health in college? We can help.

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How to Practice Gratitude in College

You don’t have to wait to begin implementing gratitude into your daily life, or to begin receiving the benefits of a gratitude practice! 

Two key components of gratitude as described by Robert Emmons, psychology professor and gratitude researcher at the University of California, Davis, are:

  1. Affirming the good things you’ve received
  2. Acknowledging the role other people play in bringing happiness and goodness into your life. 

Five easy ideas to create a gratitude practice today include:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal and commit to writing 5-10 minutes a day 
  2. Take 10 minutes in the morning and/or evening to sit in silence and mentally reflect on everything you are grateful for
  3. Write gratitude letters to people (even if you don’t mail them)
  4. Be mindful of the way you speak - aim to use language that reflects your gratitude instead of language that reflects blaming or negativity
  5. Explore your senses - aim to be present with things you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling and noticing the positive thoughts or feelings that come from them.

In what ways have you already implemented gratitude practices into your daily life, and in what ways do you hope to grow in that practice?