On January 1st of this year, many of us rang in the New Year thinking that 2020 was bound to be a great year.  Then covid-19 hit the US in March and the world changed.  Challenges and change are now everywhere as we face a pandemic, and work to embrace diversity, protect our citizens, and navigate a changing political climate.  As a result of all of the challenges in the world today, so many more people are now living in fear, strife, and feeling more anxiety than ever before.  To pivot in these trying times, we must change our views from negative to positive. 

For all of us, these are trying times. Raising children, taking care of our parents. Educating kids online at home while working. For essential workers, first responders and healthcare professionals, COVID-19 challenges have been especially challenging.   And while I don’t pretend to understand all that you go through on a daily basis, I too have been through a lot and have experienced tragedy and trauma in my life. 

In fact, I was born in the back hills of Arkansas into extreme poverty in a little shack with a hard dirt floor, that had no running water, no electricity and an outhouse out back.   My mother was a single mother who chose to have me after she was raped at 14 years old.  I had to decide at an early age if I would let my circumstances or my attitude be my guiding force.

Luckily, for me, I chose my attitude.  I decided at the tender age of 5 that I wanted to be so smart and so successful that no one could ever ignore me. As a result, I became an over-achiever.   My mother had a can-do attitude, and nothing kept her down. She was my role model.  I followed her example and quickly realized that being resilient and having a positive outlook on life would carry me further than negativity would. 

I have spent much of my life learning about the benefits of a positive mindset.  In turn, I have mentored my own employees and countless other people, helping them to change their mindset from negative to positive.  Using the guidance and research of mentors, authors, business experts and thought leaders, I have embraced change and positivity.

The first step to becoming positive is changing your outlook and trying one or more of the suggestions that I have offered.  I urge you and I challenge you to try at least one for a month. These techniques are proven, and they will work.  If you practice them every day, over time you will see a difference in your happiness and your stress level.  Why not try them out for 30 days?  What do you have to lose?  After all, if it’s good enough for Yale and Stanford, the rest of us may as well try it out. 

Thomas Paine writes in his book, Common Sense, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”  I believe Mr. Paine’s words ring as true today as they did when he wrote them in 1776.  These truly are trying times.

We must reject the negativity that surrounds us if we are to remain healthy in mind and body.  American philosopher, William James, tells us, “Optimism leads to power, but pessimism leads to weakness.” 

James Allen, my favorite author, writes in his book, “As A Man Thinkith” that each person holds the key to every condition, good or bad that enters into their life and by working patiently upon their thoughts, they may remake thier life and transform their circumstances.”

 My favorite books of all time are both by James Jensen.  The first is Beyond the Power of the Subconscious Mind and the other is 7 Keys to Unlock Your Full Potential, which helps you to see how your thoughts effect you and will help you learn methods for change.

 I have dedicated my life to this journey of being mindfully and physically healthy and I would like to share some of the methods that I use to be successful.     

  1. Health is the first step along the journey.  If you want to have a healthy mind, you must also focus on a having a healthy body.  

 Thirty years ago, after a near fatal illness, I decided to make a change in my mindset and in my life, which included changing my diet, after a near fatal illness. I cut out all sugar and have only eaten organic food since.   These organic foods have led me to be extremely healthy over the last three decades.  I have found that we must learn to think well, to eat well, to move well, to sleep well, in order to live well.  My goal has always been to live my life full out.  I work to improve myself every single day.

You are never too old to begin using my methods and it is always too soon to stop.  As Deepak Chopra reminds us, “Ageless minds and timeless bodies” are key.  Following the steps that I suggest will help to lower your blood pressure, decrease anxiety, get restful sleep–all things that will help you deal with stress. 

2. Choose to live in the moment. Be mindful to reduce stress and stay health.

According to an article published in 2019 in The Journal of Positive Psychology, mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy are well-described therapies that have been shown to decrease stress and depression.  As people try to face the challenges of our times, their stress levels are up more than normal, and they are struggling to cope.

 Mindfulness-based strategies have been extensively studied and shown to be effective in reducing burnout. In the same article, Fortney, a psychologist, along with others, demonstrated significant improvements in emotional exhaustion, personal accomplishment, depression, anxiety, and stress when participants used mindfulness based strategies.

 More recently, a randomized control trial focusing on positive effects of mindfulness stress relief has shown significant improvements on levels of mindfulness and positive emotional states including peace, renewal, energy, optimism, happiness, and acceptance.  All of these resulting in improved health and well-being with individuals who followed the stress reducing techniques.

3. Choose to react to stress with positive, not negative, actions.

People react differently to stress.  It’s not the stress that kills us, it is how our minds and bodies react to it and what we think of stress itself. 

For example, if you spend a lot of time thinking, “I’m so stressed” and letting stressors get to you, your stress level will be a lot higher and the situation will feel worse.  Stress can affect your body causing hypertension and even a possible heart attack or stroke.  However, if you cultivate an attitude of positivity and a feeling that things will get better, they typically will, and you will feel a lot better and be healthier in mind and body.  There is a direct connection between what you think and how you feel; research has proven this over and over.  All of you are in high stress jobs, so it is essential for your health that you work to have a positive mindset.

Three ways to lower stress?

  • Lower your blood pressure and your stress level is to have several upbeat songs to play that make you happy. 
  • Consider getting a pet, they love you unconditionally, are excellent companions and you can talk to them and tell them all of your concerns and they will not judge you.  They greet you at the door when you come home, and they are always happy to see you.  We could learn a few things from our pets.  Research points to the fact that pets lower your blood pressure.
  • Reduce your TV/social media quotient. These days when we turn on the TV or look at social media, we see a lot of people sowing hatred and division.  I urge you to limit the time you spend watching TV and especially the news, as It can add to pessimism and it typically says the same thing over and over again.  I suggest that you set a timer and limit your screen time to an hour or two at most.  By limiting your exposure, you won’t dwell on these situations. You already have enough situations that you deal with each day.  It is important to find ways to embrace peace—both inwardly and outwardly.

4. You may be wondering how a person can change from having a negative mindset to having a positive one. 

There are proven methods for doing just that. The first thing that I suggest is to find a trusted advisor to help relieve your burden.  Reach out to a friend or a mentor who you can meet with, talk with on the phone, or even meet via zoom once a week. 

Taking the time to talk to someone each week will relieve your stress level because it allows you time to give voice to your stress and to have a trusted sounding board.  Voicing those things that are troubling to you relieves crippling pressure.  Things can get better once you can talk them through with someone. 

Another important tip is to make a decision today to have a positive attitude and then make that same decision each and every day.  If you decide it is going to be a great day, it usually will be.  Seeing the bright side of things allows them to not look as bad.

Example: What if your car won’t start in your driveway in the morning, instead of being upset because it’s such bad luck, think about how fortunate you are to not be stuck out somewhere with a car that won’t start.  It’s much easier to wait for a tow truck at home.

 Example:  What if your teenaged driver takes your car out and hits something that puts a dent in your car? Instead of being upset about it think about how fortunate you are that your child came home safe.  We can fix cars; we can’t always fix people. 

5. Practice gratitude and speak kindly to improve mental health and resiliency.

It is important for your mental health to understand what role gratitude plays in your life.  We must be aware of what we have to be grateful and thankful for and we must take time to realize the blessings that we have in our lives. I encourage you to write down what you have to be grateful and thankful for.  Even if you just put it on a piece of paper.  Think of a partner, child, grandparent or friend.   Consider these people and be grateful for them.  Think about what you like about them.

 Additionally, research points to the fact that people need to be aware of the words they use about themselves and to themselves.  Don’t say negative things about yourself all the time.  Your subconscious mind will believe these things and will embrace the negative thoughts.  Choose your words wisely.  Work to replace your attitudes and your words so they are both positive.  This is so very important.  If you want to learn more about this, there are many book written on this subject.  

6. Assess a traumatic situation and face the fear to move on.

If you have had to deal with a traumatic situation, think about the incident that has occurred, feel it, process it, and take care of it to the best of your ability and then let it go.  This isn’t negating what happened, instead it helps you deal with the situation and then allowing you to move on.

The next part is critical to changing your mindset.  Think of a time when you have had a great experience or when you have been to an event that was rewarding in every way.  You could think of being with a beloved friend or family member, or even something major that you have to look forward to.  You may want to think about your favorite place like the ocean, mountains, or a family trip to Disney.  Whatever great memory you choose, spend time reliving the sights, sounds, feelings, the people, even the smells of the place. 

Take a moment and see the joy in your mind’s eye that you and your family were experiencing.  Keep that memory in the front of your mind and allow yourself to go back to that memory and re-experience it over and over again.  Think of the tides coming in and out, the laughter, the fun, the love and be there in mind and spirit.  Take this memory and replace it with what you are currently feeling.  Switch your mindset and put yourself in your happy place.

 I promise you if you are consistent, this will lessen the impact of the traumatic event and help you embrace the joy of the happy occasion you are now thinking about. This exercise will help you gain control and change your mindset.  There is a great example in the book Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Malts called CRAFT.  I challenge each of you to test this for a month to see if it makes a difference in your stress levels.

I spend a lot of time working with people and teaching them this technique.  However, if you still need convincing, here are some other examples of how to motivate yourself.

  • Work on changing your focus from a present mindset to a future mindset.
  • Ask yourself what you have to look forward to and then work on looking forward to it.  One study found that resilience and the ability to cope with stress makes a huge difference in people’s lives.
  • Looking to the future will help you be resilient.  The same study says if you look at stress as harmful, then you will suffer more with stress than if you don’t let stress get to you.

 Essentially, it’s not the stress that’s the killer, it’s what you think of stress and how you react to it that hurts you.  This is the difference between being optimistic and pessimistic.  Those who believe that stress is temporary found it much easier to cope with stress than those who didn’t.  It’s all about mindset and changing your mindset.  If you cultivate an attitude of positivity and a feeling that things will get better, they usually will.

7. Keep a journal to control your emotions and mindset and set a plan of action.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important for you to write down what you are grateful and thankful for and then to read it to yourself.  Look at the list often and think about it during the day.  When you go to bed, think of three things that you are grateful for from the day, something that someone did or said that you appreciated.  When you wake up, do the same thing–think of three things that you have to be grateful for and that you have to look forward to for the upcoming day such as having lunch with a friend.  

Taking the time to be mindful of the good things that you have in life and putting them on paper will let you see all you have to be thankful and grateful for.  When we pause for a moment and quantify the gifts we receive, it is much easier to see just how blessed we are.

8. Mindful meditation can make a huge difference.

Meditation is another proven way to lower stress and help us focus on optimism.  It is very easy to meditate, and it only takes 15 minutes a day.  Go to  YouTube and find a guided meditation that you find appealing.  You can make a major change in your life by meditating just a few minutes every day.

The law schools of Yale, Stanford, UC Berkley and the University of San Francisco all support the idea of the power of meditation as they each teach classes in mindfulness and meditation.  As a matter of fact, these prestigious institutions have entire programs dedicated to these very things. Not only are the Ivy Leagues getting into mindfulness and meditation; there are numerous police forces who are also receiving training.

 Police lieutenant, Richard Goerling, of Hillsboro, Oregon began the Mindful Badge Initiative.  This is a consulting group that provides resilience training to first responders. Goerling is one of the leaders of a growing movement to introduce mindfulness practices to police departments.  Goerling is working with law-enforcement agencies around the country, participating in research, and helping develop a set of best practices for the field.

The Pacific University led a study to see the effectiveness of Goerling’ s work.  In this study, Goerling led 43 officers through a curriculum called Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training  which includes meditation, martial arts, and breath- and body-awareness.  At the end of the eight-week program, the researchers found “significant improvement” in health outcomes like stress, fatigue, and sleep quality.  This science-based study points to the fact that “fatigue and sleep disturbance are predictors of” a bad “mood, including stress, negativity and anger,” says lead author Mike Christopher, a professor of clinical psychology. “And we know that anger is a big predictor of negative outcomes” and is harmful to a person’s health.   (https://www.mindful.org/mindful-policing-the-future-of-force/)

Another psychologist, Dr. Michael Mantell suggests that a sure stress reducer is practicing deep breathing.  He suggests that all one must do is breathe in deeply and slowly through your mouth for a count of four while holding your nose.  Once you reach the count of four, hold your breath as long as you can and then breathe out slowly for another four count.  Repeat this technique three times in a row and you will feel more relaxed.  Do this several times a day to keep yourself centered and feeling good.  Once you add this technique into your daily life, you will be amazed at how well it works.  It does work, try it and see for yourself.

9. Keep optimism at a premium with these activities.

Create short term goals that are enjoyable and that give you something to look forward to.   For example, one of your goals could be something as simple as finding a fun activity that evening to do with your family, like taking a walk in the park.  This will give you something to look forward to and something to focus on when you want to stay optimistic.  I suggest that you also practice being in the moment, think of your family and just enjoy the moment.

Keep in mind is that you have choices.  Choose to focus on the positive and to keep negative thoughts at bay.  The more time you spend being positive, the easier it will get to be positive.  Research shows that we can rewire our brains for positivity.  Once we do this, being positive and seeing the bright side of life, even in the toughest of jobs, becomes a lot easier.

10. Making changes and being positive is a lifelong journey.

It isn’t instant.  It is instead, a journey that will lead you down the path of happiness and positive thinking.  These methods work if you choose to use them.  Scientific and university research supports the fact that these tips are effective in changing your thinking.  I challenge you to find one to try out today.  Your journey is just a step away.  Just take the first step.

You can find more tips on being positive in a negative world on my website TessaGreenspan.com.  You can also signup for my monthly newsletter there. 

Follow me on social media, Facebook, Linked In and Twitter for positive messages and my blog. 

Tune into my podcast Tuesdays with Tessa which airs on YouTube, Blogtalk Radio and iTunes with renowned psychologist, Dr. Deborah Carlin.  Dr. Carlin is also the author of the book and features a program called Build the Strength Within: Create the Blue Print for Your Best Life Yet.

Check out Amazon.com for my bestselling book, From Outhouse to Penthouse: Life’s Lessons on Love, Laughter & Leadership.

Finally, I urge you to choose happiness; you will not regret it.  I hope you will take the first step today. At least try one of these things and try it for 30 days.  I look forward to seeing you on social media and hearing your success stories. Reach me at [email protected] to book a talk or appearance.

Author and motivational speaker Tessa Greenspan is one of the most influential women in business today. The former owner of Sappington Farmers Market in St. Louis for 28 years, Greenspan sold the business to pursue a successful speaking and writing career. Her recent memoir has become an international bestseller: “From Outhouse to Penthouse – Life Lessons on Love, Laughter and Leadership,” is available on Amazon here.  Her lectures on positivity in business and life include tips and processes for transforming personal and professional relationships during these challenging times. Her podcast, “Tuesdays with Tessa,” runs 10 am CT, hosted by Dr. Deb Carlin.

Nanette Wiser is a multimedia journalist and media consultant.