What is toxic positivity and why is it a problem?

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What is toxic positivity?

“Toxic positivity” is often defined as the belief that despite the pain or struggles a person is facing that they should have a positive mindset. This culture and overgeneralisation can lead to people masking and minimising all of their negative feelings and emotions.

Of course, there are many people out there who practice healthy positivity, positivity can be key to motivating ourselves and seeing us through challenges in life. However, where it can become toxic is when people use it to bury real feelings of anxiety, sadness and fear.

Toxic positivity can make us feel like it is not okay to express any negative feelings. As human beings we experience all types of emotions, these authentic experiences need to be recognised as normal behaviour. Over time, suppressing negative feelings can lead to greater stress and the worsening of mental health.

Social media and pressured productivity

By acting in an overly optimistic way, people avoid reality, which can breed different problems over time. Social media can often be a catalyst for toxic positivity, as our feeds are so often flooded with picture perfect / filtered lives, it becomes very easy to feel the need to keep up with these appearances.

Another type of toxic positivity that people faced during the pandemic, was the pressure to be extra productive in lockdown. There is nothing wrong with people keeping busy or picking up new hobbies, but that is also not the solution for everyone, and the pressure to do this can actually create more anxiety during an already difficult time.

Ways to deal with toxic positivity

Here are a few ways that you can tackle toxic positivity if you any of these signs are familiar with you:

  • Studies show that talking or writing about our feelings can help, that includes all feelings too – both positive and negative.
  • Acknowledge that people cope with situations differently and that is okay. The same way that people have different tastes in music or fashion, we are all individuals with our own needs and coping mechanisms.
  • Don’t try to force your feelings, recognise what is authentic to you and create a plan to manage how you deal with those emotions.
  • Give yourself a break when you need one, we all need to switch off from time to time.
  • Set small goals, don’t try and put pressure on achieving loads during a time when you might feel overwhelmed already.
  • Remember that people usually share their ‘best life’ on social media, it is important to remember this when you keep scrolling.

If you are really struggling with your mental health right now, then you should seek out professional help – below are some key organisations that you can contact.

What about toxic negativity?

When talking about toxic positivity it is important to also discuss the other end of the spectrum – “toxic negativity”. This is about people having a continual pessimistic mindset and outlook on their life, often this means an individual will expect the worst outcome in every situation.

Toxic negativity is different to depression, it is also important to remember that it is common for people to go through times of heightened negative feelings. Once again, people shouldn’t feel the need to avoid or suppress these emotions.

When negativity becomes difficult to manage, the inability to recognise positivity and good in a situation can start to deteriorate individual wellbeing as well as impacting relationships you have with other people. Too much negativity in our lives can cause mental health conditions and it can also be linked to problems with physical health.

Finding support where you need it

There are many places where you can find help if you need it, here are a few useful organisations to speak to:

Anxiety UK: 03444 775 774 (helpline) / 07537 416 905 (text) / anxietyuk.org.uk

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP): bacp.co.uk

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): 0800 58 58 58 / thecalmzone.net