According to Dr. Andrew Michaels, a Canadian clinical psychologist who specializes in, among other things, anxiety disorders and self-esteem, toxic positivity is when people assume, either by themselves or others, that despite feelings of difficulty or suffering, they should only have positive feelings and vibes.
Changing your outlook to be happy can be what makes this meme work. You may see a friend posting how productive they’re being during lockdown. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and fear are not meant to be dwelled on.
Carol Goldbuds, a psychotherapist in California, says the pressure to appear OK invalidates our range of emotions. Having distress makes you feel inadequate, and you may internalize the idea that you are weak or inadequate.
In her words, choosing to judge yourself for feelings such as pain, sadness, jealousy, which are transient and a natural part of the human experience, leads to what Carol sees as secondary emotions, such as shame, which are very intense and maladaptive.
As a consequence, we don’t allow ourselves to be compassionate toward ourselves, which is so critical to our mental health.
Michaels says avoiding or suppressing emotional discomfort leads to anxiety, depression, and an overall deterioration of mental health.
If emotions are not processed in a timely manner, they can cause a variety of psychological problems, such as insomnia, substance abuse, chronic pain, prolonged grief, or even PTSD, says Smith.
The fact that you are not okay at the moment is normal – in fact, it is okay to not be okay
Micahels says it’s ok for people not to feel fine, it’s essential. Human beings cannot select only the emotions they desire. That’s simply not how it works.
When a pandemic breaks out, it is normal to feel anxious. We can often keep ourselves safe by being anxious, she says.
In order to avoid getting yourself and others sick, we wear masks and maintain a distance from each other. In the face of an abnormal situation, anxiety is very normal. An overwhelming trauma affects us all now. Michaels says that nobody is on their own.
In other words, it is critical to remove expectations and goals of feeling good.
Instead, you must accept whatever genuine emotions arise and let them pass on their own.
What’s your approach to toxic positivity?
1. Embrace your emotions instead of ignoring or stuffing them
Acknowledge how you feel, and feel all your emotions, good or bad and you don’t hash them all together. Come sit with them. It’s only going to prolong your discomfort if you ignore what you’re feeling.
Talking about your feelings has been shown to reduce the intensity of feelings such as sadness, anger, and pain.
2. Validate what others feel, even if it differs from what is in your mind
Feelings are everyone’s business. Don’t shame someone for their emotions.
Remember that others may deal with things differently from you.
A gentle nudge or suggestion may be appropriate, but Andrew recommends that you provide support over unsolicited advice.
3. Being okay with not being okay is OK
Long suggests taking time to rest and doing things imperfectly when you are overwhelmed or exhausted.
4. Do not let feelings conflict with each other
Authentic emotions are acknowledged by healthy positivity, Long says.
It is possible to enjoy both sadness and hope during the pandemic if you lost your job.
5. Maintain a realistic perspective
Get started with small, actionable steps if you want to feel productive.
Michaels says you should not engage in brand-new tasks that you think will make you feel better during times of emotional distress. Consider expanding on your strengths and familiarity. Follow your instincts until you are feeling better.
When a person does things to improve their mood that are extensions of their existing repertoire of behaviour, Micahels says there is less cognitive effort required, and this protects the person from setting, and in the end not meeting, unrealistic expectations.
Developing critical thinking skills is key to avoiding toxic positivity, Carol says. Comparing how the media portrays people coping with the pandemic with how your reality is being portrayed may help you to understand how people are dealing with it.
It can help lessen the effects of social media, news feeds, and blogs promoting unrealistic expectations if you realize that you’re not alone in your worries and/or lack of energy.