Thanksgiving: A Great Way to Fight Worry

This week, people all over the United States will gather around tables laden with provisions, recite what they’re thankful for this year, bow their heads, and . . . worry?

Probably not.

For most of us, Thanksgiving Day will be a day for just that–thanksgiving (along with lots of carbs, time with family and friends, an afternoon nap, and probably some football). A timeout for acknowledging our gratitude for our imperfect lives in a world that puzzles us, among people we sometimes can’t stand to be around. Despite their flaws, we know these lives of ours are precious and cause for thanks.

And while these expressions of gratitude are coming out of our mouths, as we pause to count our blessings, worry will not be welcome at the table. True gratitude and worry are incompatible. We cannot thank God for what he has given and done–and simultaneously worry over the people, possessions, and possibilities that fuel our more destructive thoughts. One might follow the other, sentence by sentence, but they don’t travel together. Worried and thankful thoughts repel one another like magnets. And they push our spirits in opposite directions.

Here are three reasons expressing thanksgiving is a great way to fight worry:

Gratitude redirects us

Here’s one reason the apostle Paul instructed Christians to “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Thankfulness changes the way we function. Unlike the way worry often works, gratitude is a conscious and intentional kind of process that brings discipline to our thoughts. It changes the chemistry and activity in our brains, and it turns our attention in a completely different direction. It can literally change our minds. And when our minds change, so does our sense of purpose and our awareness of why we’re here. We gain access to new resources we can share with others. And if you find yourself in a time and circumstance where you just don’t have the words to express thanks, try reciting some of the biblical writers’ words. (Tip: do search for “thanksgiving” on Bible Gateway.)

Thanksgiving tells the truth

Much of what we worry about is real and true (and much of it isn’t), but it’s never the complete truth. When we worry, we become more and more focused on what is negative, frightening, and out of our control. The more we do this, the more we lose sight of what is also true: the positive, the beautiful, the hopeful, the unexpected good, the evidence that God is in control. Expressing gratitude can help expand our perspective to include a more complete version of reality. I think it’s no accident that right after the apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything,” he reminded Christians to “fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:6-8). It’s a powerful discipline.

History teaches us

Giving thanks calls to mind what God has done in the past and what he has taught us about who he is. Without remembrance, these lessons fade so quickly. We can forget God’s goodness to us and wonder whether he’s up to the task at hand–or whether he even cares. He doesn’t always give us what we want, but he does care for us. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you,” the apostle Peter wrote (1 Peter 5:7). We can read this and believe it, but that’s not all. Some of the most powerful pieces of evidence are in our own memories.

Thanksgiving is more than an excuse for overindulgence, a nonstop NFL marathon, or a day to enjoy family and friends. It’s serious business, and it’s seriously good for us. As you pause to give thanks this week, set your worries aside and let gratitude build your faith. Consider: what might the discipline of giving thanks do for you during the rest of the year?

  1. Rick says:

    I wish I had someone to talk to. Worry has consumed my life. Out of work for 5 years. Depression and anxiety have become my focus rather than the Lord. Could you recommend anyone in the metro New Jersey area for counseling? I am seeing a psychiatrist for meds. Thank you for your help.

    • Amy says:

      Rick, I’m so glad you’re seeing a psychiatrist and doing what you need to do to take care of yourself. Good for you, recognizing that you need someone to talk to as well. A therapist is a great idea. Unfortunately, I don’t have the necessary knowledge to recommend someone specific in your area, but I suggest you Google Christian counseling centers in the area and see what comes up. Starting with a large group practice can be a good way to go because it gives you an opportunity to try someone and then try another if you don’t connect with them. May God bless your search.

  2. Amy, this is good counsel, and sorely needed. Thank you.

  3. Krystine says:

    Amy, I absolutely agree! I have found that giving thanks and being grateful creates a mindset that keeps worry an negative thoughts at bay.

    Even when I have had terrible real life circumstances to worry about, if I focus on the ways that God is providing in the situation, I handle the stress better, and (probably no surprise to you), I’ve been able to keep functioning and getting a lot done.

    Here’s another trick I’ve found that helps: staying busy getting things done instead of stalling and stewing. I fight insomnia. I made the decision a while back that no matter what, I wasn’t going to lay in bed staring at a darkened room, thinking crummy thoughts. I have a lot of good reasons to feel crummy; a medical condition that no one really understands that has severely limited where I may go and what I may do, life circumstances that have chewed me up and spit me out, etc., but stewing and mulling have never gotten me anywhere (especially not to sleep), and at least, if I’m staying busy, I’m getting things done that need to be done so that my family and I don’t have to suffer even worse. When necessary, I make the decision to stay busy relaxing, and I find something positive to watch online or on television, or a fun activity to do. When my body and brain finally exhausts themselves, I’m able to sleep again.

    I also pray over my situation and my family’s, and (another big thing that helps) get my focus off myself by praying for others too. So many people are having tough times these days that isn’t hard to find friends whose struggles are so much worse than mine.

    Helping other people also helps. Being a friend helps. Worshiping God helps. If your focus is on God and on others, it can’t be on yourself.

    The things I’ve mentioned, though, while they are great and can help a person who’s able to implement them to feel better about life and stay productive, can’t and won’t cure serious mental illness. It’s no secret that I am appalled at the way the medical community addresses mental illness by flinging medications willy-nilly about and hoping something will stick. I wanted to share this TED talk with you about the way mental illness shows up in brain scans; that we can know what the issues really are if the medical tools we have available now are used effectively (which, mostly they aren’t being used effectively, are they?).

    I hope you’ll take the time to watch this TED talk and share it on. :

    • Amy says:

      I totally agree with you, Krystine. And the things I write about worry and anxiety aren’t meant to address mental illness or serve as a substitute for therapy or other medical intervention. I’ve met Dr. Amen and heard him deliver this presentation, and it’s pretty amazing what we can now understand about how the brain is affected by mental illness.

© 2014 Amy Simpson.