How many times a day do we hear phrases such as “It’s fine!” “Just don’t worry about it!” “Look on the bright side!” “Stay positive!” Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just pretend that everything was okay all of the time. After all, maybe if you pretend long enough it will come true, right? And positivity is a good thing, isn’t it?
The truth is, with positivity as with so many other things in life, there really can be too much of a good thing. Sometimes it is helpful to look on the bright side, but sometimes that can do more harm than good. When someone tries to put a positive spin on everything all the time, they never get a chance to process their negative thoughts and emotions. Negative feelings are part of being human and if someone ignores them, they are just going to pile up, growing bigger and bigger until they eventually start affecting their mental health. Emotions are often telling us something, and if we ignore them we won’t ever get the message. Sometimes those emotions are responses to real problems, and pretending everything is fine prevents those problems from being addressed. Some situations are so bad that it is difficult and exhausting to try to present it in a positive light. There comes a point where positivity is no longer a good thing, instead it becomes toxic.
In a society that seems to reward positive in any form, it can be really hard to break the habits of toxic positivity, but here are some tips to help you get started:
- It’s okay to sit with your negative emotions. This doesn’t mean brooding or believing that everything is bad all the time. Instead, notice what you feel. Practicing mindfulness towards your emotions can help you identify them and work through them.
- Decide what (if anything) you want to do about them. Here it is important to think about behaviors, not feelings. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed deciding that you are going to stop feeling overwhelmed is probably not a good idea. Instead, go for a walk, talk to a friend, take some deep breaths. It will be a lot more helpful than trying to force yourself to think positively.
- Make sure your plan of action is doable in your situation. Don’t make lofty goals for yourself that you probably can’t accomplish just because you feel like you should be doing more. When you are already feeling overwhelmed or stressed or sad, this can do more harm than good.
- Reach out to someone and talk about your feelings. Just like you shouldn’t pretend to yourself that you are okay, you shouldn’t pretend to those who are close to you either. Whether it is a friend, family member, or trained professional, talking about how you are feeling can be very helpful when it comes to processing emotions and problem solving. Additionally, you never know who else in your life might not be okay. You reaching out and breaking the cycle of toxic positivity may give them the courage to do the same.
Sometimes, bad situations happen and it is easy to respond to them with humor and make the best of the situation, but sometimes it’s not and we have to accept that that is okay too. The important thing is to recognize what you are feeling, accept it, and go from there.
Written by Hannah Shaffett