November 11, 2022
Unleash Your Secret Superpower
By Julie Gregory, Chief Health Liaison for Apollo Health
Ready to harness a superpower that you already have hidden inside of you? I accidentally stumbled across this magic as I was navigating a particularly stressful period in my life, outlined in Three Things to Hang Onto. Indeed, I was so stunned by the transformational power of gratitude that I took a deep dive into the research, which wildly confirmed my experience. Science reveals that gratitude is so powerful that it literally suppresses negative emotional signals. Let that sink in — your brain cannot entertain gratitude and any negative emotion at the same time. It’s an on/off switch; you have the power to turn off negativity and turn on positivity.
Gratitude is a humble emotion that packs a powerful transformational punch. It’s an awareness that something positive has either occurred or has been done for us. It’s a generous acknowledgment of the good things in our lives. We can be grateful for anything, big or small — a sunrise, a purring cat, our morning coffee, or the influence of someone in our life.
Gratitude has the power to transform and strengthen our brains in remarkably positive ways. When we feel gratitude, specific parts of our brains are activated, including the dorsal medial pre-frontal cortex. This region of the brain is involved in feelings of reward, morality, connection, and empathy. Additionally, it has the ability to upregulate neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin that can shift our thinking from negative to positive. These feel-good chemicals contribute to the feelings of connection, intimacy, and happiness that accompany gratitude.
Research shows that gratitude affects our emotional and physical health. It increases general well-being, reduces stress, alleviates depression, strengthens the immune system, reduces blood pressure, improves sleep, promotes resilience, and increases focus.
The key to this transformational superpower is consistent practice. There are many different ways to cultivate a gratitude attitude, as outlined in our Stress guide for Apollo Health subscribers. One powerful strategy that will help everyone to kickstart your practice is to write a gratitude letter — to yourself.
I’ll start by sharing my letter. I have to admit; I’ve been dreading this all week. I’d typically enjoy this exercise for myself, but the idea of going public with it is intimidating. Somehow, I’ve equated being grateful to myself with praising myself — something that makes me feel uncomfortable. If you’re feeling similarly, I encourage you to move beyond that constraint. Each of us has very real reasons to be grateful to ourselves. It’s healthy to acknowledge them. By doing so, we may recognize strengths that we previously weren’t aware of that can help us today. Most importantly, we can begin to cultivate a gratitude practice that starts with acknowledging gratitude to ourselves.
When I look back at all you’ve been through, I’m so grateful to you for getting me to this point. You persevered through your hardscrabble childhood and allowed those struggles to serve as a platform upon which you learned to be a survivor. From too early, you were caretaking your widowed mother to keep her stable in an effort to protect her, yourself, and your brothers. I thank you for having the power and strength to do that when you were just a child and for recognizing and working to overcome the effect that still has on you today.
I’m grateful that you’ve built a loving relationship with your life partner and together created a son who has taught you the true meaning of unconditional love. Their love gave you the strength to reject mainstream medicine when you were told there was no hope. I’m grateful that you had the wisdom to listen to your gut and that you had the bravery to search for answers. And, when you stumbled upon Dr. Bredesen’s seminal paper Reversal of cognitive decline: a novel therapeutic strategy, I’m eternally grateful that you had the wisdom to recognize his brilliance and the courage to reach out to him.
I’m thankful that you created a community of people to support you and, by doing so, ended up supporting thousands of others. I’m especially grateful to you for speaking truth to power to correct misinformation. As a private person and imperfect messenger, I know the bravery that entails and the toll it takes on you. I’m grateful you are strong enough to speak out, to not only protect yourself but to protect others.
Most of all, I’m grateful that you’re learning to balance your strength with softness and opening your eyes to all of the good things in your life. I thank you for understanding that softness has its own power. By learning to let go of control and allowing positivity into your life, you’re protecting yourself even more.
Thank you for growing, learning, and sharing your journey, even when it’s incredibly difficult. By doing so, you have the opportunity to help many others.
With all of my love,