In recent years, we’ve been surrounded by the push for positivity, which has aided in raising awareness for improved mental health and wellbeing. But when does this become toxic? It’s hard to strike the right balance between trying to maintain a positive outlook but also knowing when to allow yourself to recognise and feel your negative emotions, this is okay and completely normal. Trying to constantly remain positive can be draining, especially when we’re not feeling positive at all, and this can actually endanger our mental health rather than benefit it.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter the difficult circumstances or situation that you may find yourself in, a positive outlook should be maintained. Practising positivity has many benefits, such as:
- Reduces stress
- Helps us build better coping mechanisms
- Helps to build resilience
- Increases immunity and lifespan
Despite the benefits practising positivity can have, suppressing any negative emotion we have to try and strive for constant positivity is unhealthy. As a result, any authentic, emotional experiences we try to have can be denied, minimised or invalidated. Toxic positivity is also affected by; data from NHS England supports the idea that the British tradition off keeping a stiff upper lip encourages us to ‘just get on with it’, particularly for older people. This can cause people to be embarrassed of sharing how they are feeling, which in turn can have harmful effects on mental health, contributing to the stigma around talking about our mental health. Examples of phrases rooted in toxic positivity include:
- “Look on the bright side!”
- “Everything happens for a reason”
- “You’ll get over this”
- “Just don’t worry!”
- “At least…”
These seemingly harmless comments from friends, family or colleagues can come across as helpful when you’re upset, but they may be unintentionally falling into the trap of toxic positivity, and difficult situations simply can’t be glossed over with a stock phrase. Letting our negative emotions wash over us can be necessary to let go of feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness, and can help us come out better on the other side.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay – When and How to Seek Help
No one’s perfect and we’re all human. What’s important is to distinguish between when you’re feeling negative and when those negative emotions start to linger and interfere with your everyday life, which can lead to harmful or suicidal feelings. Talking about mental health, especially suicide, can be difficult enough as it is, but the effects of toxic positivity can make this process harder, particularly when it comes to suicide prevention. If you try to seek help and advice from a friend, family member or colleague when feeling suicidal, it’s possible that you could receive a response unintentionally entwined with toxic positivity. This can affect how you perceive seeking help for your mental health and, as outlined by Mind, make you feel:
- Unable to tell someone or unsure who to tell
- Concerned that they won’t understand
- Fearful of being judged
- Worried you’ll upset them
Trusted people in your life won’t intentionally make you feel any of the above, and it’s okay to confide in them. However, once you’ve done this, it’s time to consider seeking professional help as the situation may need more expert input. Suicide is a significant issue for many and can be triggered for a number of reasons; according to Mind, one in five people have suicidal thoughts and one in 15 people attempt suicide. If you experience harmful or suicidal thoughts and need to find support, there are plenty of sources that can help:
- Samaritans –24 hours a day, 365 days a year
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – 5pm to midnight every day
- SOS Silence of Suicide – 4pm to midnight every day
The helplines and webchats available through these services are free and are there to help when you are feeling down and in a difficult place. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Tips on Ways to Practise Positivity
Knowing that it’s hard to stay positive when we don’t feel that way is important, but this doesn’t mean we can’t try to incorporate positivity into our everyday lives when we’re feeling up to it. Here are some tips on how we can practise positivity:
- Practise gratitude – try to think about what you’re grateful for in your daily life, even the smallest of acts, when we think about it, can make a big difference to our day
- Write down your gratitude – once you start to practise gratitude, why not journal them? MHFA USA agree that writing down gratitude can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and allows you to celebrate small victories
- Avoid negative self-talk – we can all be guilty of this as it’s easy to be hard on ourselves, but it’s important to resist the urge to feed our self-doubt and recognise when self-talk becomes a harmful inner critic. Try to be mindful of your negative talk and challenge it, rather than ‘I can’t do it’, try ‘I can do this by trying it a different way’
We hope that you’re assured that it’s okay to not be okay, even mental health first aiders can feel down and struggle to feel positive all the time, so please don’t feel pressured to always putting on a brave face. If you would like to find out more about us, the types of training we provide, or book a course through one of our licensed instructors, visit our website and invest in your wellbeing and the mental health of those around you.