Putting Pen to Paper with Gratitude Letters

When was the last time you thanked a friend, classmate, colleague, or relative for something nice they did for you? This month at The Mindful Collective we’re all about gratitude and thankfulness – there’s nothing that makes us happier!


Today I’d love to chat with you in more detail about writing letters of gratitude, and the further evidence of benefits they can provide. While there has been a great deal of research conducted over the years on the positives of writing-oriented gratitude activities (think daily gratitude lists, journaling, and the like), there wasn’t much in the way of data regarding sustained gratitude letter-writing. Until, that is, a recent study out of Kent State University (Toepfer, Cichy & Peters 2011). The investigation examined the effects of gratitude letter writing over time, relating to several components of subjective wellbeing.


The study looked at:
1. Gratitude;
2. Happiness;
3. Life-satisfaction; and
4. Depression.


Participants in the study were asked to write three letters of gratitude to three different people to express their appreciation. The letter writers were instructed to be reflective, expressive, and to write from a positive point of view, and to avoid falling into the trap of trivial “thank you” notes often associated with gift giving (did anybody else’s parents force them to do this after every birthday and Christmas?!). The results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increases happiness and life-satisfaction. Significant findings supported much of the previous research in the field, and showed new evidence that gratitude letter writing decreases depressive symptoms. In fact, happiness was shown to have a cumulative effect after each letter was written – now that’s a snowball effect we can get behind!


Now it’s your turn

We know that gratitude is an incredibly important virtue, emotion and practice; however, the most exciting research finding on gratitude so far is that we can build it – like our muscles! We want to help you do this and that is why we created Your Letters of Gratitude. A gorgeous pack of 13 postcards designed especially for you to put pen to paper and write your very own gratitude letters. You might choose to write to your mum, your neighbour, a teacher or mentor. You might choose to write them all at once, once a week, or spread out over the year. Whatever you decide, this is YOUR gratitude journey and we are so happy that you have chosen to take the first step!


Toepfer, SM, Cichy, K & Peters, P 2011, ‘Letters of gratitude: further evidence for author benefits’, J Happiness Study, iss. 13, pp. 187-201.


Book Review: Capturing mindfulness: A guide to becoming present through photography

The desire to be more present in our lives and feel more sure of oneself is something everyone wants to achieve these days, but how do you go about achieving complete mindfulness?


If you buy into the fads of popular society these days, it would seem that the solution comes at the tip of a colouring in pencil, as many adults unleash the child within them to return to those well-worn colouring in books. “Just five minutes a day is all it takes,” declare many an advertisement in various book retailers around the country.


And it would seem that the technique is working, with illustrators such as Johanna Basford (Magical Jungle, Lost Ocean, Enchanted Forest) and Millie Marcotta (Curious Creatures, Animal Kingdom, Tropical Wonderland) continually topping the best-seller list with their “mindful” creations. Even some of our favourite fiction series are getting in on the act, with numerous Harry Potter-inspired colouring books for adults on the market, along with George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones and Sarah J. Mass’ Throne of Glass series.


While the concept itself may seem new, the idea of taking one’s creative passions and adapting them to mindfulness and meditative practice is not. Matthew Johnstone has been using his artistic talents to discuss mental illness since the publication of his first book, I Have a Black Dog in 2005, which was followed up by other books such as The Alphabet of the Human Heart and Quiet the Mind. Published a few years ago, Capturing Mindfulness: A Guide to Becoming Present Through Photography takes that concept one step further, as Johnstone works to combine both his passion for photography and positive thinking into one, neat little package. While, there is a certain “coffee table” feel to this book (in that in can be read in one sitting), Johnstone goes beyond that, accompanying the positive affirmations that feature throughout with instructions for how readers too can become what he describes as “photo-present”.


To be honest, I was a little dubious when I read that. While the author describes himself as more of a hobbyist photographer, he does have that background in creative arts, as evidenced by his previous published works. How will asking readers to take on a potentially new hobby and strive for the perfect photo allow them to achieve the calm that the mindfulness concept seems to embody? Surely that’s just going to enhance feelings of negativity, stress and anxiety, all things that go against becoming mindful, isn’t it?


Apparently, I was wrong. “Being photo-present is something that you set out to do with absolute intention,” he says. “It’s a time to consciously slow down both mentally and physically and look at your world with a keen curiosity.” “Develop a child’s eye,” declares one page,” (this advice being something that Johnstone takes literally, as he engages school students in the practice regularly) and abandon the rules of taking a good photograph, “It’s not about the outcome; it’s more about the process and practice. Pretend you don’t care, and you won’t,” are just some of the suggestions he makes.


“It’s important to remember that being photo-present is about creating some time for yourself while heightening your awareness… With or without a camera, it’s a wonderful thing to be aware of where you are, what you’re doing and how you’re feeling.” At its heart, that is what the concept of mindfulness is about, and one of the reasons why this book (and the techniques discussed within its pages) works so well. It’s about discovering the little things in life, the things no one else sees, and taking time to appreciate them, and your place within the world in the same way that family and friends have a way of keeping one grounded when life gets chaotic.


While it is ultimately one of the objects of the book, for those who honestly have no desire to pick up a camera, you don’t even have to take the “photo-present” side of Capturing Mindfulness seriously, if that is your choice. I found the idea behind the technique enough, and that just flipping through the book before bed centred me enough to wash away the anxieties and worries of the day. Each page is a work of art designed to capture the mind and allow the reader (for a short period of time, at least) to let go of the weight stopping us from going about our daily lives. With artistic mindfulness becoming ever more popular, Johnstone offers another technique in this book that will not only appeal to those with creative leanings, but also to those just wanting to be reminded to not take life’s little treasures for granted. Take a few minutes to read it and you won’t be disappointed.


Capturing Mindfulness: A Guide to Becoming Present Through Photography is published via Pan MacMillan Australia and is available via their website, the author’s website or in local bookstores. For more information about Matthew Johnstone, follow him on Facebook.


Written By: Jackie Smith is a freelance journalist/editor and proofreader from Brisbane, QLD, Australia. Currently studying a Cert IV in Marketing and Communications, her work has been published with various media outlets (print and online). To keep updated with all of Jackie’s current articles, visit her blog, Facebook page or Twitter.


Helping Your Friend Who is Depressed

– Sarah Fader

I have lived with clinical depression for most of my life. I can remember as early as eight feeling a sick sad feeling. It usually started in my stomach and continued to permeate my entire body all the way into my brain. Having clinical depression is a mental illness; It is a disease. It’s in the DSM-V. It’s a medical condition. It’s also something that I would not wish on anyone, even my worst nemesis. You see, clinical depression is a horrible disgusting monster that has tried to murder me. It has terrified me to the point where I was scared to get out of bed. I didn’t want to shower, get dressed, eat, or live. At times, the monster told me to sleep all day. Other occasions it tortured me by not allowing me to sleep at all.


I’m proud to report that I am still here. I didn’t let this even monster take my life away from me. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t continue to challenge me and make me feel extraordinarily small. Clinical depression has a way of minimizing you. It points this lazar gun at your heart and attempts to shrink you to the smallest size possible. It is reminiscent of the part in Alice in Wonderland where she takes a pill and shrinks so small that she is able to crawl into places that a mouse could fit in.


Alice is taken on a wild ride, much like the terrifying rollercoaster that clinical depression takes its victims on.


I used to see myself as a victim of depression. Now I see myself as a warrior.  I have a shield and a sword and I’m ready to take that bitch down.


I go to war for my life each and every single day. I see a therapist weekly. I take antidepressants. I meditate and engage in breathing exercises. I religiously see my therapist and my psychiatrist. I am fierce about my regimen of self-care and I have to be. I don’t have the luxury of not going to the mental gym.


There are many people in this world who do not comprehend how awful depression is. They truly believe that they you can cheer up. They are sure that by reminding you of the great things in your life that you will somehow miraculously be cured. It all be a distant memory and you’ll be happy again because that’s how life works right?




These are the same individuals who will discourage you from complaining. Complaining is not what you’re doing – you are fighting a disease. They don’t know that though. They will insist that other human beings have it worse than you do. There are people in other countries who are starving.


What makes you so sad? You have it easy.


Here’s the truth.


When someone has ALS, do you ask them to stop complaining about their terminal disease? No. You don’t do that.


When you tell a person who has depression to be silent you are contributing to their illness. So stop doing that. Let your depressed friend speak.


She needs to open up

She wants to tell you her story

She is hurting

She needs you.


Depression is a disease and one of the cures is talk therapy. When you allow your friend to sound off to you, then you are helping her get well. You don’t need to fix it. You are not required to do anything but listen. And that is something you can do. So do it. Be there, and don’t try to do anything. Depression isn’t something that has a toolbox or instruction manual it comes with. In fact, quite the opposite. Depression wants to annihilate anyone who wants to stop it or get it gone.


It’s a sneaky bastard and doesn’t have any consideration for the people it afflicts.


When your friend tells you she is hurting, she wants some help fighting this monster. You can pick up that sword and pitch in. Listen to her, help her strategize, or just be there. Whatever she needs, she will tell you.


Understand that your friend who lives with depression is suffering. She may not know how to stop the pain. But she does love you. She wants you in her life, but she is sick right now. The wound is open and she is showing it to you. Be considerate and kind. She lacks hope at the moment, but that doesn’t mean she is hopeless.


What can you do?






Your friend is a human being and she needs you. So be there.


Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She is an author and blogger, having been featured on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good day New York.


Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.


Dear Body

Nicole Yarham

We live in a world where comparison is the norm.  We compare our jobs, our hobbies, our weekend events, our holidays, our friends, our incomes and more shockingly our bodies.  Most of us struggle with, or have previously struggled with, body dissatisfaction, poor body image or body comparison in some way, robbing us from leading a life full of joy. This needs to stop.


Australia’s National Eating Disorders Collaboration defines body image as the perception that a person has of their physical self, but more importantly the thoughts and feelings the person experiences as a result of that perception.  They believe that there are four aspects of body image:


1. The way you see yourself (Perceptual)
The way you see your body is not always a correct representation of what you actually look like. For example, a person may perceive themselves to be fat when in reality they are underweight.  How a person sees themselves is their perceptual body image.


2. The way you feel about the way you look (Affective)
There are things a person may like or dislike about the way they look. Your feelings about your body, especially the amount of satisfaction or dissatisfaction you experience in relation to your appearance, weight, shape and body parts is your affective body image.


3. The thoughts and beliefs you feel about your body (Cognitive)
Some people believe that they will feel better about themselves if they are thinner. Others believe they will look better if they develop more muscle.  The way you think about your body is your cognitive body image.


4. The things you do in relation to the way you look (Behavioural)
When a person is dissatisfied with the way they look, they may employ destructive behaviours such as excessive exercising or disordered eating as a means to change appearance. Some people may isolate themselves because they feel bad about the way they look.  Behaviour in which you renege as a result of your body image encompasses your behaviour body image.1


With this in mind we can clearly see that as we begin to compare ourselves to others we risk affecting our thoughts, emotions and behaviour. We can easily become fixated on trying to change our body shape and get caught up in feelings of guilt and low self-esteem.  This can lead to a heightened risk of developing an eating disorder or poor body image and body dissatisfaction as we engage with unhealthy practices with food and exercise in hope of alleviating these negative feelings.


However we need to remember that there is no right or wrong when it comes to body shape or appearance.  Yes that can be hard to accept, however challenging the acceptance of our body shapes and limiting the comparison of ourselves is a crucial step towards feeling positive about our weight, shape, size and appearance.1


Having previously suffered from an eating disorder, body acceptance has been a real challenge.  I find it hard at times to love myself, limit comparisons and accept my body – imperfections and all.  Therefore I decided that something had to change.  I needed to change the way I viewed and thought about myself as well as my negative self-talk in order to have a positive effect on my thoughts, emotions and behaviour.  For that reason I decided to write a pledge not only for myself, but for all women struggling with poor body image and body dissatisfaction in hope that it would remind us to accept our true selves.


Dear Body,


I’m sorry I’ve treated you unkindly and poorly in the past.


You were never a problem.


I’m sorry for letting what other people think colour my judgment of you.

There is nothing wrong with your size, your curves, your scars, your flaws, your stretch marks or you.


I know you are subjected to comparisons, daily put downs and even put through pain in hopes of looking like the people on my Instagram account or Facebook newsfeed. However, it’s not your job to look “pretty” because you’re good enough already!


So this year instead of working against you, I will work with you.


Instead of going on crash diets, skipping meals, binging on junk food and sacrificing on exercise and sleep, I will try to keep you healthy and happy.


I know our relationship in the past has been very unstable, abusive and at times irrational and crazy but I promise to love you and be more thankful for all that you do for me and allow me to do.


I promise to take responsibility for why you might be feeling unwell, sluggish, lethargic and rundown and not lay the blame unfairly on you.  I promise to invest in self-care and treat you to the occasional massage or pedicure.


This year I promise to remind you daily that you are good enough and full of worth.  And when I look at you in the mirror I promise to silence your haters and look at you with loving eyes.


I will stop taking out my stress on you by abusing you through my lifestyle choices.  I will cherish you, stick up for you, encourage you, motivate you, celebrate you and embrace you because whether we like it or not, we are in this together – daily – every day – for the rest of our life.


With love and gracious kindness,




Take some time today to appreciate and celebrate all the amazing things that your body does for you and let these mindful words empower you to accept yourself just as you are.  Then take some time to practice self-care and say some loving words to yourself as you learn to work with your body rather than against it.


References (check them out for more information):


1. National Eating Disorders Collaboration. 2011. Body Image Fact Sheet. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nedc.com.au/files/logos/Fact%20sheet_Body%20Image_2013.pdf. [Accessed 22 February 16].


Are You Emotionally Fit?

– Bianca Rea


 How do you measure emotional fitness?


Mental and emotional fitness, much like physical fitness, is measured by recovery rate. How quickly are you able to bounce back from a setback, rejection or negativity? We all experience this at some point in our lives. The quicker you are able to bounce back, then the fitter you are emotionally.


We’ve all heard about the Mind-Body Connection, the better you look after your body, the better the mind is. Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, and boosts endorphins (feel-good chemicals) in the brain. It’s no surprise then, for this reason that people that are in good shape have a higher level of mental agility.1


While exercise is good for the brain, so is the ability to decompress and chill out. Failure to do this can result in stress, which can turn harmful if not managed.


Stress is a normal physiological reaction, which was developed in our ancient ancestors in response to danger and other threats. These days, it’s unlikely that we will face those dangers that our ancestors did, but we do face many challenges that cause our body to react in the same way. Meeting deadlines, studying, paying bills, all of these issues we face turn on the fight or flight response – boosted heart rate, increased energy, increased blood pressure etc. to enable us to deal with these problems.


Chronic stress relates to how we manage these problems. The longer our stress periods last, the more damage it does to our mind and bodies. Stress can also make our existing problems worse. Studies show that unmanaged stress can cause heart attacks, arrhythmias, and even sudden death.2


So how can we reduce or even fix stress?


It’s not an easy quick fix, but there are steps we can take that will go a long way of repairing the damage that has been inflicted on ourselves.


Identify what’s causing you stress: Being mindful of what is actually causing you to stress out will give you a strong clear pathway on how to reduce it. This also compartmentalises these issues, making it easier to plan your attack.


Reduce caffeine and sugar: The temporary “highs” caffeine and sugar enables you with, usually end in a deep crash, which results in lack of energy and mood swings. Reducing or avoiding these foods altogether keeps you better equipped to deal with situations and help you sleep better.3


Get enough sleep: Sleep is most important. Adequate sleep fuels your mind and your body. Failure to get enough quality sleep can cause you to think and act irrationally.


Be present: Focus on one behaviour with mindfulness. Whether it is showering and feeling the water hit your body, or listening to the water splash on the tiles. When you spend time in the moment, and focus on your senses, then you can feel less tense.


Be kind to yourself: Having compassion for others makes them feel better. So why not show a little compassion for yourself? Putting great pressure on yourself can only exacerbate the problems you are facing. So make sure you take some time out for yourself and let yourself get a little silly – if you feel like being completely lazy for a day and not do anything at all except watch Netflix and eat chocolate ice cream for a few hours, then let yourself. It’s this downtime that gives you an opportunity for your mind and body to rest and to avoid adrenal fatigue.


Learn how to say no: Know your limits and stick to them. Biting off more than you can chew is a surefire way to induce unnecessary stress in your life. Distinguish between the “shoulds”, “musts” and don’t be afraid to just say “no” when things get too much to handle.


Progressive muscle relaxation: This exercise shows you how to tense and relax different muscles in your body, so that you are aware of what a tensed muscle and a relaxed muscle feel like. You then become more mindful of the physical sensations. You start off by tensing the muscles in your toes and then working your way up the body till you get to your neck and head. Tense the muscle groups for five seconds and then relax for thirty seconds. Rinse and repeat. Avoid people who stress you out: If someone consistently causes stress in your life, then take steps to reduce contact with them. Limit the time you spend with them, or just end the relationship.


Ask for help: A problem shared is a problem halved. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance on a problem that is bothering you and causing you unease. They don’t even need to help you fix the problem; they just need to be a good listener. Asking for advice from a friend or family member also strengthens healthy relationships so you’re getting a two-for-one discount with this one.


Take control: If watching the news stresses you out, turn off the TV. If you can’t handle the crowds in the supermarket, then do your grocery shopping online. Taking control of the situation

can help you in feeling like you’re managing the problem.4


Let us know what works for you in the comments below!


Written by Bianca Rea

References (check these out for more information!):


1. http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/mental-fitness#54


2. Krantz, D.S., Whittaker, K.S. & Sheps, D.S. (2011). “Psychosocial risk factors for coronary artery disease: Pathophysiologic mechanisms.” In Heart and Mind: Evolution of Cardiac Psychology. Washington, DC: APA.


3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368


 4. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm


Compare and despair


Depression is a sneaky monster. It wants to make us feel lower than low. In reality, we have a choice as to whether or not we listen to it. It’s difficult when you feel low to look around at other people and observe how “easy” their lives appear to be. In reality everyone has their own unique challenges and struggles to conquer. The idea that one person’s life is easier than another is an optical illusion.


Pain cannot be compared; it simply exists. That’s why it is fruitless to compare yourself to other people. Human beings are naturally competitive, however it’s important to recognize that some forms of competition are unhealthy. When you find yourself comparing your suffering to another person’s, it’s time to curb that impulse.


A quick way to remember this is “compare and despair.” No good can come from comparing your sadness to another person’s. You have your own unique journey and no one can truly understand what it’s like to be in your shoes. You are the only one who knows what it’s like to feel your feelings. Sure, we can empathise with others and try to see matters from their eyes, but we can never know what their inherent reality is like.


On the surface, someone’s life could look idyllic and without struggle or sadness. In reality, this is not the case. This individual may be suffering a great deal and they have not shared their pain with the world. Some people are better at hiding their pain than others. We cannot judge what is on the exterior, because we do not know what other people are thinking.


You are entitled to your experience and you own that. It’s not just about pain or suffering either, it’s about our triumphs as people too. Depression sneaks out into your consciousness when you compare your success to another person’s. You are special in your way. There are unique traits that make you, you. It’s important to celebrate your successes as well as the triumphs of others.


We’re in this world with one simple purpose: to find what makes us happy and fulfilled. Though the purpose may be straightforward, the end game is extremely challenging. Finding happiness is a lifelong journey. Ultimately the answer is within ourselves.


Whatever you do, remember that your success or happiness is not contingent upon another person. Happiness exists within yourself; you don’t need to look to another person to fulfill that need. Look inside and ask yourself: what makes me happy? What is it that brings joy into my life? Once you’ve answered that question, then you can seek out those things that bring light into your life.


Sarah Fader

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She is an author and blogger, having been featured on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good day New York.


Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.


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