Toxic Positivity and Why it’s Bad for your Health

So what is Toxic Positivity?

Well in a nutshell, it's a "good vibes only" approach to life and whilst we all know that having a positive outlook on life is good for your mental well-being, life isn't always positive and will throw us a curve ball from time to time. We all deal with painful emotions and experiences and while they are often unpleasant and hard to deal with, they are important and need to be felt and dealt with openly and honestly.

The phrase toxic positivity is the culture of portraying yourself as being happy no matter what. Basically, switching off to anything which might be viewed as negative. It’s also the idea of encouraging people to always see the bright side with comments such as “good vibes only”, “you’ll be fine”, “it’s nothing” and “just smile!” are prime examples of encouraging toxic positivity. This can actually be harmful for people who are going through difficult times who may, as a result, be unable to share their feelings and emotions and end up feeling dismissed, ignored or outright invalidated and without the support they made need.

Some signs of toxic positivity may include hiding/masking your true feelings, trying to just get on with it, feeling guilty for feeling what you feel, minimizing other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statements, trying to give someone perspective (e.g. “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience, shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity and brushing off things that are bothering you with an “It is what it is” attitude.

Several psychological studies show us that hiding or denying feelings can lead to more stress on the body and/or increased difficulty avoiding the distressing thoughts and feelings. It’s important to acknowledge the reality of our emotions by talking about them and moving them out of our bodies as this can keep us sane and emotionally healthy. Sometimes when we don’t want to show a part of ourselves, we create a false image or public persona for the world, a cheery, happy and smiling image, which occasionally is no bad thing but when we regularly go into hiding like that or suppress emotions this can later manifest into anxiety, depression, physical illness and worse.

The key to avoiding toxic positivity, is to aim for balance (like most things in life) and the acceptance of both good and bad emotions rather than all-or-nothing mindset. If you are being influenced by toxic positivity, it’s helpful if you can set healthy boundaries with anyone who passes optimistic judgment on your experience and speak your truth. We get one chance at this wild and precious life with all its imperfections and it is ok not to be ok.

Things we can do to address toxic positivity:

· Manage but don't deny negative emotions as they can provide information that can lead to beneficial changes in your life. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings they are valid and important.

· Be realistic about what you should feel, it’s normal to feel stressed, worried, or even fearful at times. Don’t expect too much from yourself and focus on self care and taking steps that can help improve your situation.

· Accept that it’s okay to feel more than one thing. If you are facing a challenge, it’s possible to feel nervous about the future and also hopeful that you will succeed. Your emotions are as complex as the situation itself.

· Focus on listening to others and showing support. When someone expresses a difficult emotion, don’t shut them down with toxic platitudes. Instead, let them know that what they are feeling is normal and that you are there to listen.

· Toxic positivity is often subtle, and we’ve all engaged in this type of thinking at one point or another. By learning to recognize it, however, you’ll be better able to rid yourself of this type of thinking and provide (and receive) more authentic support when you are going through something that isn’t easy. Start noticing toxic statements and strive to let yourself and others feel your emotions, both the positive and the negative. Helpful comments could be

something like this – “This is hard, you’ve done hard things before and I believe in you” ” sometimes giving up is ok what is your ideal outcome?” “It’s no fun feeling like that, is there something we can do today that you’d enjoy?” or simply “I’m here for you whatever.”

Now, being a teacher of mindfulness, it would be remiss of me not to mention that together with the above, practising mindfulness and meditation teaches us to notice, allow and accept negative feelings as this can help us understand who we are and make good choices. Mindfulness helps us to be present and fully engaged with whatever we are doing at that moment, to notice our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and our environment. Research has shown that mindfulness works in part by helping us accept our experiences- including painful emotions – rather than reacting with avoidance and aversion. This practice/way of life has so many benefits for our emotional health and resilience and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events (or life’s curve balls) and brings us happiness and tranquillity. What’s not to like? Let’s give toxic positivity a miss!

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