"Depression and gratitude could not coexist in me."

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Episode 27 -- July 16, 2020

Practicing Gratitude: Appreciation as an Antidote to Anxiety

There are many reasons we might be feeling anxious or depressed these days. Having tried all kinds of unhelpful and unhealthy responses to feelings that seem overwhelming, those of us in recovery have certain practices and strategies that help us notice and navigate negativity, and we're usually looking for more. As an antidote to anxiety, author in recovery Kevin Roberts recommends the depression-defying gift of gratitude. In his book. Cyber Junkie: escaping the Gaming and Internet Trap, Roberts describes his own first attempts at keeping a gratitude journal, and how this simple daily practice became an essential part of his recovery.

It has been edited for brevity.

"I think it's a losing battle," I told Bill as we sat in the coffee shop. "You told me that I had to find an anchor, but I still feel like a ship lost at sea." I rattled off a litany of my dissatisfactions with life.

Bill listened intently and, after about thirty minutes, said, "I know you're not a drinker, but I think there's something you need to hear," he said. "Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink."

"Self-pity is the surest road to relapse," Bill said.

As an experiment, Bill asked me to keep a notebook next to my bed. First thing in the morning and before going to bed, I was to write down a "gratitude list" of at least ten things for which I was grateful. He told me that there were many aspects of life that we all take for granted, and that most of us have a tendency to focus on the negatives and obsess over what we do not have. "Whatever you choose to focus on," Bill told me, "that's what you will get out of life. If you let your mind become overrun with things you are unhappy about, those things are what you end up getting."

I could not imagine that this simplistic method would do anything to lift my spirits. I had been to the high Andes and to arid deserts, and I had apprenticed under shamans and holy men, but nothing had helped. I was disappointed that this list idea was the only solution Bill could suggest. I left the coffee shop more depressed than ever.

I had so much respect for Bill, though, that I did what he asked. I figured I might have a few things to write down each day. Bill asked me to spend at least five minutes each time I opened the notebook so that "gratitude could percolate." On the first day, I wrote this list:

  1. My health
  2. I have a job I do not hate
  3. Barb
  4. Palmer
  5. My friend Brendan
  6. I speak many languages
  7. Doug
  8. My cat, Lulu
  9. I have a great house
  10. I live in a great neighborhood
  11. I live in a time when doctors can cure most infectious diseases
  12. Working in the afternoon so I don't have to wake up early
  13. I am able to go to Monty's every day, drink coffee, and hang out
  14. I was lucky to get a great education
  15. My mom always supported my dreams
  16. I have had great mentors in my life
  17. My family
  18. I play the guitar
  19. I am funny
  20. I have a good car
  21. My mom is in good health
  22. Emily
  23. Languages come easily to me
  24. I am not poor
  25. I have traveled around the world
  26. I live in a relatively free country
  27. I was not around when Mt. Vesuvius erupted
  28. Chocolate
  29. I grew up in an open-minded family
  30. The stock market hasn't crashed in over seventy years
  31. The killer bees never made it up to Michigan

The first items came slowly, but after a couple minutes, my gratitude exploded! I had fun with the exercise, and each day, the list grew longer. And something amazing happened: I found that I was grateful through most of the day. Depression and gratitude could not coexist in me. I had more energy. When I felt down, bored, or uninspired, I just thought of things I was grateful for, and the negative feelings evaporated. When I had tried meditation, I had been unable to let go of negative thoughts. The gratitude list cured me of that problem. Nowadays, I follow up each day's gratitude list with ten minutes of meditation. I simply "watch" my mind. I can observe my cravings without getting caught by or sucked into them.

Some of us recovering addicts become mired in negativity. Negativity takes up most of the space between our ears. In my work with cyber addicts, I have found that breaking the attachment to negativity is best accomplished through daily gratitude practice.

Whenever I have a particularly intense craving to play a video game or find myself starting to get lost on the Internet, I pull out pen and paper and write down the things in my life for which I am grateful. Then, I write down my goals. This listing process does something to my brain. It jump-starts me out of emotional malaise and brings balance. After all the things I have tried, surprisingly, it is the simple things that have helped me most.

Scientists are now confirming my findings. In a study of organ recipients, researchers found that patients who kept gratitude journals scored higher on "measures of mental health, general health and vitality than those who kept only routine notes about their days." Robert Emmons, a University of California--Davis professor who specializes in the study of gratitude, found that "increased feelings of gratitude can cause people's well-being and quality of life to improve." I recommend a gratitude journal to everyone, especially those struggling to recover from addiction.

My daily meditation and gratitude practices, a few key mentors, and a burning desire to achieve my goals have kept me on the path. My example, I think, underscores the need for perseverance. If we keep at recovery, we will find what we are looking for.

Make your own gratitude list and read more about how we can all cope with our addictions and devices during the pandemic...and any day...in Cyber Junkie by Kevin Roberts.

About the Author:
Kevin Roberts is a recovering video game addict who runs sup-port groups to help cyber addicts who struggle to get their lives back on track. He is a nationally recognized expert on video gaming addiction and a regular conference speaker. His background is in education, and for the last eleven years he has been an academic coach, helping folks dealing with attention-deifcit/hyperactivity disorder succeed in school and life. He is the curriculum developer and a board member of the EmpowerADD Project, which uses a sixteen-module program that is designed to give individuals with ADHD the skills they need to succeed.

Kevin speaks many foreign languages fluently and performs stand-up comedy at conferences and conventions. He is presently putting the finishing touches on a one-man show about his life. He speaks around the country about cyber addiction and ADHD.

© 2010 by Kevin J. Roberts