The Power of Gratitude in Times of Fear

Barbara A. Bernard

The times when gratitude is the last thing on my mind are the most important times for me to rediscover its power. Part of living in discovery is recognizing that, in challenging times, we always have a choice to respond instead of reacting. It may seem counterintuitive that gratitude would be the place to go in moments of fear and uncertainty, but my experience has taught me otherwise.

When I’ve been faced with a situation that is complex or that seemed overwhelming, I’ve often viewed it initially as insolvable. I’ve reacted with anger, sought someone or something to blame, or generally felt a sense of hopelessness. My anger or resentment focused me exclusively on limits and loss. I’ve learned that these feelings and reactions don’t help me solve anything. Instead they keep me frozen in fear.

Gratitude enters in when I step back and realize what occurred is not the sum total of my experience. What I see as a source of grief or loss also contains an opportunity to explore a different way of being in the world. With a shift in perspective, gratitude guides me to create meaning.

Gratitude blocks 1

Gratitude arises from compassion

I’ve written elsewhere about the week when my dad had a brainstem stroke four days after my mother was diagnosed with ALS. My immediate reaction was anger. For two weeks I maintained appearances as a storm raged internally. My life wasn’t supposed to be this way. Panicked isn’t a strong enough word to describe what I felt as I thought about what was ahead. Once, when asked, I described my life as “hell.” Those words reverberated through my body, and I was horrified to hear what I’d said.

In that same moment, my father was lying still in a hospital bed. He was waiting for me, and I was being offered an opportunity to serve him. Love and compassion for my father suddenly replaced anger and fear. That moment was a gift and signaled a shift into gratitude. It was then that I was able to direct my focus to my parents’ needs and open my mind to creative solutions for the daily challenges that arose in caring for the two of them. I could constantly see new possibilities, and I allowed my intuition to guide me.

Gratitude can heal

At other times in my life since then—in the darkness of grief and fear, and feeling overwhelmed by circumstances—gratitude has guided me back to hope. Choosing to focus on what I am grateful for in the present moment allows me to pause, breathe, and reflect rather than react. As I’ve practiced living in discovery, the act of expressing gratitude for my current situation has always helped me return to the belief that “I can do this”—whatever “this” is. Gratitude brings me back to feeling capable of responding mindfully and seeking creative solutions. The solutions may take time and require tenacity, but I remind myself “I’ve got this.”

When I believe there is a way through, when I see that there is a path, even if only one step at a time, I am able to recognize the good around me. This then supports me in becoming hopeful once again. Each time I make my way through a challenging and complex situation, my belief in my capabilities is strengthened. Because gratitude has repeatedly been my route to rediscovering hope, I now know that

I am not alone.

I will be given all I need.

I am capable of handling complex situations.

I am surrounded by possibilities and potential.

People will show up to help me, often those I least expect.

There is a way. I will see my way through this, one step at a time.

However challenge has appeared in my life, I know I have been served by these beliefs time and time again. They support me in bringing a better me to the we that many challenges require.

In my deepest grief and in the most complex and confusing situations, gratitude has been a powerful healer. Choosing gratitude and choosing to believe that possibilities and solutions always exist, have made all the difference in my life. As we each reclaim hope and our belief in solutions and possibilities, we are better able to shine our light in the world.