Toxic Positivity: The Newest Threat To Our Mental Health

I hate TKMAXX.

The red signage makes me wince, the lack of organisation when it comes to hanging garments is obscene, and the shoe section never delivers the goods. I always leave empty-handed after wasting at least two hours of my life sifting through discounted clothing and ginormous scented candles.

But one section of the store is particularly relevant to the thing I’m about to tell you. The home section is crammed with what I like to call ‘unnecessary signage’. There are wooden arrows claiming to show the way to the beach, heart-shaped plaques with romantic quotes and boards emblazoned with slogans such as ‘choose happy’ and ‘today is a gift’.

These overly-jolly home accessories are a perfect example of toxic positivity, that expectation that we need to be happy all the time, to the point where other emotions just aren’t acceptable.

Many of us hang these quotes around the house to encourage positive thoughts. Keep calm and carry on! But what happens when you can’t carry on? What good are these harmless quotes then?

The problem with toxic positivity is that it takes up so much energy. People who are relentlessly positive 24/7 don’t make time to sit with natural (sometimes negative) emotions that crop up throughout the day. When you get overcharged for your coffee, it’s OK to be annoyed. When you forget to call your mum on her birthday, it’s OK to feel guilty. When you think about a loved one who died, it’s OK to be sad.

That’s what we try to promote at The Positive People Podcast. We love talking to interesting people about the darkest periods can lead to the biggest bursts of light. From death anxiety to real self-care to quitting your job to pursue a passion, we cover all the difficult parts of life and reframe them as life-affirming experiences.

We all know that bottling up emotions is unhealthy. But many of us still feel like it’s better to keep quiet about feelings that might make others uncomfortable. Opening up about your difficult emotions such as pain, anger, anxiety or depression doesn’t necessarily need to be a two-way conversation. There are so many other ways that you can express your fears and worries without needing to say them out loud.

Writing is an excellent way to offload your emotional baggage and begin to work through it. If you’re angry with someone, write them a letter without the intention of ever sending it. Write with complete honesty and say what you really want to say to that person. No holding back. Getting it off your chest will make you feel lighter, and maybe even less affected by the thing you were angry about in the first place.

If you’re not sure how you feel, describe how you feel in relation to the weather. Maybe things feel a bit foggy at the moment, unlikely to see any sunshine in the next few days. Or you might feel like your caught in the middle of an unpredictable thunderstorm which sure to leave a path of destruction.

Whatever you’re going through, no matter how you’re feeling, it really helps to allow yourself to simply be. Accept whatever you’re feeling and don’t try to mask it with a false smile and a positive attitude.

Why? Because the more you experience the full spectrum of human emotion, the better equipped you are at dealing with the difficult ones. Once you’ve lived through sadness, the next bout of sadness comes with a reminder that you’ve got through this before. You learn skills that help build up your emotional resilience, a sort of tool-kit that you can draw on to stay safe whilst you deal with the emotional rollercoaster.

For example, when I feel anxious I know that running will make me feel a little better. When I’m unmotivated quite often a change of scenery or a conversation with a friend will inspire me to get back to work. When I’m sad, the best thing for me is to mope around for one full day and feel the pain. Then, I try a variety of things that have worked in the past. A walk in the fresh air. A hot bath. A yoga session. These things have become my version of ‘thinking positive’ because small proactive steps in the right direction whilst allowing myself to feel human… that’s what helps me get through. One day at a time.

-Bloom From The Darkness

Author Bio:

Fiona Thomas is a mental health writer and has been published in the Metro, Happiful Magazine and Grazia. Her memoir Depression in a Digital Age is an extension of her work and is a testament to all that is possible online. She is also the co-host of the Positive People Podcast.

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