Advice on positivity from a beloved counselor

Before the late Ms Susan Reynolds, a long-term substitute counselor, passed away in February, our writer asked her wisdom about how students can maintain a positive mindset.

Our student writer, Sylvia Hudak, had an opportunity to interview the late Ms Susan Reynolds earlier this year, on the topic of stress and how teens can de-stress.  Just a few weeks after the interview, on Feb. 9, Ms Reynolds died unexpectedly of a heart attack.  In the interview, Ms Reynolds shares her thoughts on how to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. 

Ms Reynolds refers to her beloved cats.  An obituary referred to “Ruby,” “Henry,” “Sophia,” and “Oscar” as her “much loved (and spoiled) pet cats” and noted that they brought her joy. 

Ms Reynolds held three master’s degrees, in School Counseling, Audiology, and Social Work.  In less than a year here as a long-term substitute counselor, she became known for her effectiveness with, and deep compassion for students. 

Life is at the bottom right now; you have three tests this week that you feel unprepared for.  One of them is for a class which you struggle a lot with and aren’t too far from failing. You also have a pile of homework, are seemingly the only one in your group of friends who is not in a relationship, and everywhere you go, there seems to be friend drama. On top of this, your parents are putting impossible-sounding expectations on you, meaning you fear they will yell at you if you don’t get an average of at least 90 in all your classes.

It may seem like your life is a mess — a mess that can’t be cleaned up. However, read on for tips on replacing stressful thoughts with positive thoughts.

The first tip is positive self-talk, which is saying positive things, such as words of affirmation (“You are awesome,” etc) in your head. Webster Thomas counselor and social worker Susan Reynolds said in a recent interview that positive self-talk is a good method because “it replaces negative thoughts.” Telling yourself how wonderful you are, in your head, and actually meaning what you say could distract you from negative things people say, or things you’d fear people would say to you.

In addition to giving yourself positive messages, another good method is to think about something you like, such as pets, friends, or anything that makes you happy.  Ms Reynolds said she finds that she “can’t think positive and negative at the same time.” She says that focusing on the positive things may replace the thoughts that make you stressed. Thinking of those things can be relaxing, and when Ms Reynolds thinks of her cats which she loves, she said that she feels, “like I am loved.”

The third and final tip for positive mindsets is reading for pleasure. Ms Reynolds said reading “distracts me” and makes her feel more relaxed. If you don’t know what you want to read, you can go to a library such as the Webster Thomas Library (or any high school library) or the Webster Public Library and look around, reading the titles, looking at the covers, and reading the backs of the book, for something that might interest you and provide an escape.

Negative thoughts of any kind are normal for everyone, especially teenagers with their large amounts school work. Simply thinking of something different and relaxing — instead of thinking about what makes you uncomfortable — can make you feel more relaxed and like life isn’t at the absolute bottom, she said. Ms Reynolds said she sees her positive thinking times as “time for myself.”