COVID-19 and mental health: All you need to know about toxic positivity and how to deal with it during the pandemic
Toxic positivity is the concept of being only happy and positive through everything in life and avoiding all things which trigger negative emotions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought in a lot of mental health issues and they affect not only those who get the disease and those who treat it but also the general population, including essential workers and those sheltering in place. Anxiety, stress and depression had all been growing concerns before the pandemic and recently there was another very real problem addition to that list -- caution fatigue.
Sure, stress can have severe effects and anxiety can ruin some of the best days and moments for an individual. However, far from all the chaos, there is another thing that would be as bad for you if not worse than stress itself -- toxic positivity.
If you have ever told someone or been told things like ‘be positive’ and ‘everything happens for a reason’, then you have experienced toxic positivity first-hand.
Toxic positivity is the concept of being only happy and positive through everything in life and avoiding all things which trigger negative emotions. While this approach may seem harmless to some, experts say this is not good for your emotional and mental health.
Optimism or toxic positivity
Optimism is when a person remains positive about the outcome of a situation. Optimistic people are likely to know that their failure is not permanent and there is scope for change.
Over time, experts have suggested the benefits of a positive mindset and how it reduces your risk of heart diseases, improves immunity and gives you several other health benefits.
However, there is a difference between having a positive outlook on life and being happy. You can be sad about a situation and still have a positive feeling about the future.
“We have confused being happy with the ability to apply a positive mindset,” wrote Dr Jocelyn Brewer, a registered psychologist, in an article on the online portal for Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences.
The concept is everywhere in popular culture that you won’t even realise you are looking at it until you become aware of the issue. Remember those happy looking people on social media platforms and the many positivity quotes subtly pushing you to chase happiness? When you run after happiness and ignore all your negative feelings, you set yourself up for failure.
How to deal with it
Now we are not saying you have to be a sad or negative person. Rather, accept your sad emotions. Avoiding emotions does not make them go away. They just stay there in your head, becoming bigger and bigger until you face them head-on to move past them.
Experts say that humans were not designed to only feel happy all the time. Besides, difficult emotions give you a greater chance of survival. When you are scared or sad, it makes your mind and senses work on assessing the situation and the environment so you can come up with a solution to the problem.
The Canadian Mental Health Association suggests that if you want to help someone, give them validation and hope instead of toxic positivity. The latter will help them speak up about their problem and not feel bad about feeling sad or other negative emotions.
So the next time you see someone sad, do not tell them to never give up, to be positive or to find the silver lining. Instead, tell them it is okay to be tired at times, it's okay if quitting is all they can think about and it's okay to not be able to see the positive side of the situation. Show your belief in them and point out how they have dealt with hurdles before and remind them how they managed to overcome those. Tell them it is normal to feel negative at times and let them think about what could go right when there are a lot of things that can go wrong in a situation.
For more information, read our article on How to protect your mental health during COVID-19 pandemic
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