A Gratitude Tree | Center for Growth Therapy

A Gratitude Tree

Alex , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director

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Fighting Anxiety Through the Act of Giving Thanks - A Gratitude Tree - Anxiety is a disease of the negative mind. Many of those who suffer with anxiety struggle to see the positive side of life and are plagued by a negative self image, destructive self-talk, and a pessimistic outlook. These are not habits they enjoy, or are even aware they have, but they feed the anxiety under the surface. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, you must first recognize the impact that a negative attitude has on your life and the role it plays in your anxiety. Once you name it and claim it, you can move on by learning how to see the ‘glass half full’.

An excellent exercise in the art of positive thinking is giving daily thanks. The trick behind giving thanks is recognizing that you have something to be thankful for. Often this is where people struggle the most. We are all trained to see a void, to want without recognizing what we already have. This is part of living in such a commercialized era. The media consistently feeds us messages that we are lacking, that we are needing, and that we are wanting. It is a conscious effort to combat this by seeing what you have. Being thankful takes practice, but it is a great way to turn our focus from ‘have not’ to ‘have’ and in so doing stop fueling the anxiety fire within.

A gratitude tree is a great technique for increasing thankfulness. Its simplicity and presence make it very effective. You can start several ways, with an old branch in a pot, a paper cut out tree on the wall, or even a Christmas tree. The small table-top size is recommended. The idea is to have the branches which provide ample room and open opportunity for ‘thank tags’ or ornaments. Find an obvious place for your tree, somewhere you are sure to see it everyday. Set it up so it can remain there for some time. Creating new habits does not happen overnight, and you will need to participate in the gratitude tree for weeks or even months to really change your thinking.

The next item is the tags or ornaments. If the tree is paper, then stickers or even just a marker to write on it will do. Try the colored circle garage sale stickers. If the tree is literal, then try sticking two stickers together back to back. Punch a hole through them and use string or hooks for hanging. Otherwise, there are plenty of tags already available at your local store that can work. Even strips of construction paper stapled in a loop will work. Anything that will hang and can be written on is ideal. Make enough for several weeks or months and keep these tags nearby with a pen or marker for writing.

Find a time that works best for you: perhaps in the morning just before heading out to work is good or maybe at night before bed is better. You can ‘decorate’ your tree daily, weekly, or just as things come, but a schedule is recommended to truly habitualize the practice. During this time, take a moment to find something to be thankful for. Anything positive will work, anything that stands out to you and happened since you last visited your tree, such as catching a cab on the first try, lunch with a friend, buying a great pair of shoes on sale, whatever you are grateful for. Write this down on one of your tags and hang it on the tree. Doing this regularly trains you to be conscious of the good things in your life and to show your gratitude for them.

Every week or so, take a little extra time to read the tags you’ve added. Just take a moment to remember the things that have gone well for you and give a final thanks. Encourage family and friends to hang their ‘thanks’ on your tree as well. You will find that people are challenged and touched by this statement. You could even start a gratitude tree at the office to promote positive energy in the workplace. When your tree is complete, do something to memorialize it. Burn the tags and sprinkle the ashes in a garden, press a twig in an old book, or give a gift in honor of all you’ve received. Overtime, you will find that as you notice and applaud the positive things in your life your outlook begins to change and your focus shifts toward what you can be grateful for. This natural transfer works to ease anxiety and its symptoms in a positive, painless way. By shutting down the flow of negative thoughts and mentality, your anxiety has less to survive on and you will find that you have more and more to give thanks for.

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