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What Is Toxic Positivity and Why Is It Dangerous to One’s Mental Health?

by Ellie Richards 2 months ago in mental health
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After always being encouraged to 'be positive' is it really helping?

Let me be frank: in today’s world of global calamities and significant uncertainties, keeping a positive outlook on life is a massive challenge. Even simply logging in to your social media accounts can lead to exposing oneself to concerning or anxiety-inducing news. Our engagement with the negative information space has become so habitual that psychologists have started coming up with new terms (e.g., ‘doomscrolling’) to describe such behaviours.

To protect their mental health, many people have started deliberately surrounding themselves with positive news and limiting their exposure to online news outlets and social media. Consciously avoiding negative news can be more than justified if you are experiencing low moods, anxiety and disruptions to your sleep schedule. However, is there such a thing as too much positivity? And if it does exist, what could be its impacts on your mental health? We intend to fully answer both of these questions.

How Can Toxic Positivity Be Defined?

Toxic positivity is not a recent phenomenon but it has gained prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic and, unfortunately, continues to become more and more noticeable due to armed conflicts in Europe and continental Asia.

In brief, toxic positivity is a coping mechanism that focuses on fully avoiding any negativity no matter the circumstances. What’s worse, toxic positivity does not exist in isolation. People who use this mechanism are typically very vocal about voicing their positive outlook on life and downplaying legitimate risks and concerns.

Have you ever vented your anxieties to a friend or a coworker only to receive “just look on the bright side!” or “you need to cheer up!” in response? This is toxic positivity at its ‘finest’. Toxic positivity downplays one’s (or others’) feelings and encourages forcibly putting on rose-tinted glasses on oneself and other people.

Avoidance is at the core of toxic positivity. And hey, there is some merit in simply disconnecting from the negative and deliberately giving a wide berth to everything that may threaten one’s tranquillity. Sometimes, the stress of our daily lives can simply be too overwhelming to properly process our emotions and rationally think about what’s going on. Nevertheless, in the long term, toxic positivity can do more harm than good.

How Exactly Does Toxic Positivity Threaten My Mental Health?

Here are just some examples and explanations of how toxic positivity may be detrimental to one’s mental health.

Toxic positivity can lead to downplaying legitimate concerns and risks.

When faced with significant risks or a challenge, it might be easier to avoid them altogether instead of attempting to find a solution and weathering the proverbial storm. However, in some cases, running away is simply the worst thing you can do.

For example, if you have concerns about your physical health, it may be easier to simply say “it’s going to be fine” than go to the doctor. Left untreated, however, these concerns may very well become actively damaging to your daily life. Avoidance makes sense but not to the degree when you underestimate valid negative experiences.

Toxic positivity can lead to self-judgment.

Toxic positivity puts unambiguous labels on all your emotions. Feeling sad, anxious or depressed is always bad while feeling cheerful and upbeat is unequivocally good. On paper, this approach makes at least a little bit of sense.

However, life cannot always consist of positive emotions. Experiencing negative feelings is a natural part of being physically and emotionally alive. By establishing strict labels, you are mentally cutting out a major part of your emotional development. You are also giving yourself a reason to judge how you feel and think, and that is never a good idea.

Accepting one’s negative emotions is hard but it is a much more preferable alternative than ignoring them or judging them. People cannot control the way they feel but they can (and, arguably, should) avoid blaming themselves for their emotions.

Toxic positivity establishes unrealistic expectations.

Toxic positivity involves putting as much distance between oneself and one’s negative emotions as possible. As a result, feeling cheerful is seen as a highly desirable outcome while being anxious or sad is met with self-judgment. Put simply, toxic positivity suggests that you should always feel as cheerful as possible while avoiding those pesky negative emotions.

However you look at it, this expectation simply cannot be met by any rational human being. In extreme cases, toxic positivity can also lead to people expecting themselves to feel intensely happy no matter the circumstances. When you inevitably fail to match these unrealistic expectations, it can be easy to criticise yourself or even ‘punish’ yourself by restricting access to enjoyable activities. Neither outcome is good for taking care of one’s mental health.

What Can I Do to Avoid Toxic Positivity?

Distancing oneself from the toxic positivity mindset can be difficult but it is not impossible. Here are just some suggestions on what you can do to avoid toxic positivity.

- Acknowledge that your feelings (whether positive or negative) are valid.

- Avoid placing labels on your emotions.

- In your internal monologue, try to use neutral language instead of being judgmental.

- Recognise that life can be difficult and that feeling sad is a natural part of being human.

- Do not expect yourself to feel a certain way in certain situations.

- Keep a thought journal allowing you to fully and accurately describe your emotions.

- Evaluate risks rationally and take action even if it may lead to experiencing negative emotions.

I hope that my brief analysis of toxic positivity highlighted just how damaging this mindset can be to one’s mental health. If you ever find yourself avoiding negativity or judging your negative emotions, it may be time to take care of yourself and change how you construe your emotional life. While the above recommendations may seem pretty simple, being respectful of one’s emotions is no small feat. If you are struggling, there is no shame in talking to a licensed mental health professional.

Author bio

Ellie Richards is an online Marketing Manager for Original PhD, specialising in PhD thesis writing. She is passionate about researching and writing on various topics, including Education, Marketing, and Technology.

mental health

About the author

Ellie Richards

Ellie Richards is an online Marketing Manager for Original PhD, specialising in PhD thesis writing. She is passionate about researching and writing on various topics, including Education, Marketing, and Technology.

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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