We must find the silver linings in life’s challenges. Every day we are faced with challenges or we continue to fight an ongoing challenge, and we must always look for the positives of every situation. There may only be one but dive deep into that one. For example, not having any hair has allowed me to get in and out of the shower quicker!! I don’t have to worry about the rain ruining my hair. I could go on and on because I stopped focusing on what I don’t have control of and that is the growth of my hair so why not look at the positives of the situation!?
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness ” I had the pleasure of interviewing McKenna Reitz.
McKenna Reitz is an inspirational speaker and a Challenge Coach who works with men and women to reframe life’s challenges into gifts and opportunities so they can pursue their purpose with clarity and confidence. After losing all her hair due to Alopecia, McKenna uses her journey of having this autoimmune disease to help others overcome loss in their life by resetting their mindset of their “loss” into growth and opportunities in their lives. Teaching AP Psychology and coaching varsity volleyball for the past 16 years, McKenna resides in Toledo, OH with her husband Greg, and two beautiful daughters Karsen (8) and Maddox (5). McKenna was named the Make a Difference Teacher 2020, BCSN Teacher of the Month, District 7 Coach of the Year, Promedica Junior Philanthropist of the Year, given a Humanitarian Award while also being nominated numerous times for Toledo’s 20 Under 40 Award. McKenna has been featured on This List, The Doctor Oz Show, Love What Matters, 13abc, WTOL11, NBC24 and in Healthy Women Magazine and the Toledo Blade numerous times.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
My entire life growing up I knew I wanted to empower and inspire others through teaching and coaching. I had many teachers and coaches in my life including my mother who empowered me beyond measures that strengthened me mentally, physically, and emotionally to be exactly where I am today. I never imagined being a high school AP Psychology teacher and varsity volleyball coach have such an impact on me and my life let alone my students.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In November 2015, I lost all my hair due to an autoimmune disease called Alopecia. As it started to fall out and recede back I was forced to wear headbands and use makeup to cover up any bald spots on my scalp while it was up in a ponytail. Thankfully, I made the decision to stand in front of my students and tell them that my hair was falling out, I was going to start to look a little different and at the time we didn’t have any answers. Being vulnerable and transparent with my story empowered me to show up every day even when I did not want to. My students and colleagues have witnessed my journey and transformation of shame and doubt to feeling empowered to flaunt my bald head.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
The problem is not the problem. The problem is the attitude about the problem. For far too long after I lost my hair I was so focused on the problem and trying to solve it. I tried everything from topical creams, to medicines, weekly injections into my scalp and even went the holistic route, but nothing worked. After many months I started to realize that I was putting too much energy into what I could not control and that was the problem at hand, hair loss. I then put my focus and energy into what I am able to control about the situation and that is my mindset about Alopecia. Once I started to reframe my mindset about my hair loss I started to see life from a completely new perspective. When I found silver linings not only about having Alopecia but any of my life’s challenges, much-needed positivity started to flood into my life. This put me on the journey towards acceptance and having the ability to see the beauty in baldness.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
A book that had a great impact on me was Relentless by Tim Grover, I actually had my varsity volleyball team read it a few years ago. Being relentless is one of my core values and I strive to be relentless in all aspects of my life regardless of the importance of the task at hand. We must go all in mentally, emotionally, and physically in everything we do.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am actually in the middle of writing my book, ‘Think You’re Having a Bad Hair Day? Turning Life’s Challenges into Opportunities.’ We are given great stories that must be shared with the world to empower others to know they are not alone. We are all battling something, we all have a story. Mine just happens to be visible. My book will empower people to put energy into what they are in control of in their life and their challenges and not to allow anything to ever hold them back.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am the most blessed daughter to have the most unconditionally loving parents. Knowing you are loved is truly the best gift any person can ever be given. They have been my rock my entire life while supporting each and every endeavor I take on especially these back five years. My parents have instilled in me the values and work ethic it takes to be successful and exemplified it every day of my life. They showed me the meaning of strength and how we are capable of so much more than we ever give ourselves credit for in our lives. I remember my mom asking me a couple of months after losing my hair “how I wake up every day.” I told her there is no other choice. I have two daughters who need me, students who rely on me, and a family to take care of. Ironically, the main reason I woke up every day was because of my parents. They taught me how to fight and to always get back up when we are knocked down. I wanted to make them proud.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Gratitude is being appreciative for what you have, the opportunities available to us, and the support we are given on a daily basis.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
Honestly, I believe people do not feel gratitude because we become so caught up in life we truly take everything for granted. We forget about the little things in life that all add up to create who we are every day and it is those little things that we must show gratitude for that we forget to every day. Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always searching for something that will possibly make them happier. When we show gratitude for what we have in our lives our mental state grows stronger every time.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
Gratitude helps us feel more positive emotions, enjoy our amazing experiences, improve our mental, emotional and physical health, deal with adversity while also building strong relationships.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
We can feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. When we apply gratitude to the past, present, and future we become hopeful and create an optimistic attitude.
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
- We must find the silver linings in life’s challenges. Every day we are faced with challenges or we continue to fight an ongoing challenge, and we must always look for the positives of every situation. There may only be one but dive deep into that one. For example, not having any hair has allowed me to get in and out of the shower quicker!! I don’t have to worry about the rain ruining my hair. I could go on and on because I stopped focusing on what I don’t have control of and that is the growth of my hair so why not look at the positives of the situation!?
- Say thank you. Every time we say thank you to someone else you not only strengthen your relationship with another person by sharing your appreciation for that person and their impact on your life but at the same time you are making yourself happier. We then feel rewarded with the rush of dopamine that makes us want more of that amazing feeling.
- We must count our blessings. Wake up every morning and know you are blessed to have a source of income, the necessities to survive, a beating heart, and knowing that you matter in this world.
- Understand the problem is not the problem. The problem is the attitude about the problem. For far too much of our lives, we put too much energy into what we do not have control over rather than putting energy and focus into what we do have control over and that is our attitude and mindset. When we focus on our mindset on the problem at hand we become grateful for what we do have in our lives. Over time, our minds and bodies will respond favorably to our gratitude attitude and it will become a natural way of living.
- Gratitude is contagious. Have you ever heard of the Pay It Forward movement? Have you ever been in line at Starbucks and discovered that your drink was just paid for by the person in front of you? How did that make you feel? Thought of, right? I am going to guess that you most likely then bought the drink for the person behind you. This simple act of kindness has a deep impact on your overall wellbeing and how you interact with the rest of your day!
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
Meditation has changed my life and my mental health allowing me to slow down physically and mentally. I am a person who hates to slow down in my life and my brain is always going and when I forced myself to try to meditate I realized I can slow down. This time allowed me to clear my mind and just be in the present. I then could focus on what I do have control over and that is my attitude and mindset towards how I am feeling.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
I love any Brene Brown books because they all just bring such a beautiful perspective on life that brings so much gratitude to our lives.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to start a movement that our hair is not our identity, it is our character that defines us. I want younger girls to be taught their purpose in life, that they are enough and are worth it from more women on social media so they stop comparing themselves to what they see rather than be inspired by others.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Social Media: IG: @mckennareitz; Twitter: @mckennareitz; FB: @mckennamreitz
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!