Finding Gratitude During a Pandemic

As we all prepare for the holidays this year we may be having a difficult time feeling thankful.

As we continue to navigate this long-lasting pandemic there has been so much loss and heartache.  

Years ago I went to a conference on preventing burnout in healthcare providers with Dr. J. Bryan Sexton, associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke’s School of Medicine and an expert in the idea of resilience.  He impressed me and I have talked about his conference to many colleagues over the years.

I loved sharing his wisdom with my clients, because of studies that link resilience to better diabetes self management. (1)

Lately, as I have been struggling with overwhelming feelings of sadness, I have remembered to practice some of his tools to cultivate resilience. Cultivating resiliency is something that takes daily focus. To cultivate means to nurture, grow, and encourage resilient behaviors.

Dr. Sexton suggests these three ways to increase resilience.

Three Good Things

Humans are hard-wired to remember the negative aspects of our day, but flipping around the natural inclination is simple.

Building resilience is possible by focusing on positive emotions – joy, serenity, hope gratitude, inspiration, pride, love, awe, and amusement.

Promoting positive thoughts and building resilience can be as easy as taking notes each night before bed. Think of three things that happened during the day that went well and your role in the positive outcome, then jot down those three things. Best results for this exercise come after 14 consecutive days. Empirical evidence shows that this elevates brain serotonin with positive effects on our mood that last for months. (2)

Show Gratitude

Grab a pen and paper and write a letter of appreciation to someone- anyone. Take five minutes to explain something they did, how it impacted you and the benefits you received. Whether you share the letter or not, Dr. Sexton said it can have lasting impacts, increasing happiness while lowering depressing thoughts because focusing on benefits forces us to linger on positive thoughts.

Rediscover Awe

Through an “awe intervention,” you can create a sense of slowed down time, which offers a calming sensation and a feeling of having more time available.

Awe also helps us to feel inspired. I call awe intervention, “joyful thanksgiving”. It is a practice that I am doing in which I acknowledge and give a little extra gratitude for the many amazing sights, sounds, tastes, relationships, information, and emotions that excite me and create awe right from the moment when I wake up. 

Today as I was practicing my joyful thanksgiving I paid special attention to my breakfast of oatmeal, blueberries, banana, walnuts and cinnamon. I love oatmeal in the fall and winter months.

I began to feel grateful for this medicinal food.  Oats, blueberries, banana, and nuts contain water soluble fiber which slow the absorption of sugar and fat from food, and therefore help prevent spikes in blood sugar and blood fat, possibly reducing the inflammatory response to food. (3)(4)

Fiber is a super food which provides important nutrition for our intestinal bacteria to live and prosper, that’s why fiber is called a pre-biotic. Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and legumes remain the single best sources of fiber in the diet.  High-fiber vegetables include many of the green leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, chard, arugula, and even lettuces. Whole-grain sources of fiber include oats, quinoa, barley and rye. Legumes include beans like peas, soy, black, pinto and lentils.

Encouraging our clients to consider adding more fiber rich dishes to the holiday meals this season and perhaps telling them about Dr. Sexton’s tools for cultivating resilience may help them to feel happier and more hopeful and contribute to better blood sugar control.

Blueberry-Banana Overnight Oats

½ cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage

½ cup old-fashioned oats

½ TB chia seeds

½ banana

1 tsp maple syrup

½ cup blueberries

2 TB chopped walnuts

1/8 tsp cinnamon

Combine coconut milk, oats, chia, banana, maple syrup in a pint-sized jar and stir. Top with blueberries and coconut. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Heat up and sprinkle with walnuts and cinnamon in the morning.

285 calories, 6 gm protein,  57 gms carbohydrate, 7 gms fiber 6 gm fat

  1. Understanding the links between resilience and type-2 diabetes self-management: a qualitative study in South Australia . Arch Public Health. 2017; 75: 56.
  2. Seligman, Steen, Park & Petersen (July-August 2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Intervention. American Psychologist
  3. The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and

 Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2015 Dec; 7(12): 10369-10387p. 1392:8

  • Chandalia, M., et al., Beneficial effects of high dietary fiber intake in patients with type 2     diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med, 2000. 342(19):

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