Almost half a year into the quarantine, emotions are understandably all over the place. It doesn’t seem like we’re getting anywhere and everyone is fearing for their health, the safety of their loved ones, and the uncertainty of the future. We all feel sadness and frustration but contrary to what you might think, forcing a smile and projecting positivity might not be the best idea — it could even backfire on us. There’s such a thing as toxic positivity — a term that was coined way before the pandemic — and we should all be careful not to step over that line.
What is toxic positivity?
Scrolling through social media lately you’ll see posts saying things such as “Stay positive!” or “Look at the bright side.” While the intention might have been to uplift and “help” those who come across it, this kind of positivity might not always the best response to everything. The 23.7 million Filipinos who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic do not need you shoving down “positive vibes only *peace emoji*” down their throats.
In simple terms, toxic positivity is a concept where one believes that shoving away all the bad things and focusing solely on the positive things is the way to live life. Did you get laid off? That’s okay, there are a lot of jobs out there. Lost a loved one? Cheer up, they wouldn’t want you to be sad. Feel sad all of a sudden? Look around you, you’re still alive and you’re #blessedt, you don’t have time to be sad! POSITIVE. VIBES. ONLY.
When does positivity become toxic?
Let’s get this straight – positivity in itself isn’t bad. We need the rays of sunshine and the silver linings too, especially during times like these. But to ignore your negative emotions and to force yourself to focus on the good stuff isn’t helping anyone least of all you. Toxic positivity tells you it’s bad to get feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration. It enforces the idea that the only way you can survive this crazy situation is by keeping positive which is not entirely true. It does not tell you that bottling up emotions will make them explode in uglier ways later on.
Too much positivity in the time of COVID-19
Social media is more often than not a toxic place to be especially now that everyone is in quarantine. You see posts preaching about how you should use your time productively. Learn a new language, get a new hobby, finish a hundred tasks every day for work, you’re at home all day anyway! Look, if it works for others then good for them. Here’s a virtual high five. But if it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay too. You don’t have to keep up with social media and their achievements.
You’re human – take time to process your emotions
As a reminder, some people over function, busy themselves, & complete tasks when facing trauma, grief, anxiety, powerlessness. Some people under function, slow down, internalize, & need rest. Both are valid & respectable ways to cope. Neither is right nor wrong.
— pauladatkinson (@pauladatkinson) April 8, 2020
The 2015 Disney movie Inside Out is the perfect example of how important it is to acknowledge your emotions. Joy didn’t understand the important emotion Sadness contributes and tried to stifle her attempts at making Riley sad. For Joy, there was no room for Sadness in anyone’s life – the very embodiment of toxic positivity. In the end, Joy had to learn the hard way that Riley needed to process her emotions in order to be happy in the end.
You need to face your emotions and “roll with them” so to speak. Anger, sadness, frustration – these are all emotions that make you human. They shouldn’t be categorized as good or bad because without them, as Joy learned, we become apathetic and void.
So how should you be positive then?
June Gruber in her article “Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt You” shares how too much happiness emotion could be a bad thing. “One cannot experience happiness at the cost or expense of negative emotions, such as sadness or anger or guilt,” Gruber writes. “These are all part of a complex recipe for emotional health and help us attain a more grounded perspective. Emotional balance is crucial.”
Emotions act as our guide and they signal back to us different things. If we’re having a bad day, the comfort of someone to talk to or a warm hug could be a great thing. If you feel fear, you’ll be more on your guard and trying to avoid danger. Emotions “help us make sense of things,” according to Psychology Today.
How can you help those around you?
Your friends going through a tough time does not need to hear a canned response like “it will all be okay in the end.” They’ve already heard that. What they need is someone who will be by their side as they go through the difficult emotions. You, me, and everyone else need to know and feel that our emotions are heard, that it’s okay to be feeling sad and unproductive for a while. Suppressing emotions will lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression and we want to avoid that at all costs.
Avoiding toxic positivity messages
So now that you know what toxic positivity is, how do you go about dealing with it? We must make conscious efforts to make sure that those around us and those who confide in us know that they can do so anytime. Try practicing the simple messages below:
How do we take care of our mental health during these times?
When you feel like everything is coming at to you all at once, pause, and remember to breathe. No feeling is final and in the journey to get used to this “new normal,” it’s okay to feel lost for a while. We are not under normal circumstances, all our routines have been uprooted and our health and safety compromised. It’s normal to be scared, to be listless, and be emotional but remember that you don’t have to face the scary abyss of emotions alone. Sometimes a simple talk with friends and family can make you feel better. If you aren’t comfortable with them, don’t hesitate to seek out the help of specialists.
How do you battle toxic positivity?