What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity can be described as the assumption that regardless of a person’s emotional pain or tumultuous situation, things can be fixed, or rather improved by always maintaining a “positive attitude.” If you use social media, you will probably recognize this trend is especially common among influencers. This isn’t surprising, given that social media is often a highlight reel of one’s life. The issue with toxic positivity is it can give the impression that your feelings are invalid when you are in distress. These feelings can further internalize and cause lowered self-esteem and the belief you are somehow inadequate if you are having a difficult time.

What can toxic positivity look like?

Toxic positivity can take many forms. Aforementioned, influencers are notorious for pushing the toxic positivity agenda. Examples of this can be, “Don’t feel like working out today? Don’t pout. Get up and get a workout in!” And if you’re like me, there are days you think know that workout just isn’t going to happen – and the little push from your favorite fitness influencer can ultimately make you feel .. guilty. However, toxic positivity is not exclusive to social media or influencers. It can be that friend who, no matter what you have going on, will say, “Well, look on the bright side” or “So many people have it so much worse than you.”

Toxic positivity during a pandemic

During these uncertain times, it’s normal for people to seek out control. The COVID-19 outbreak has been unpredictable and left the world, not knowing what comes next. When this happens, the initial reaction is to put on a happy face, positive attitude. It’s all going to be okay! Which it is but, that doesn’t mean you can feel other things. First and foremost, there are more than 3.8 billion COVID cases in the United States. Not to mention, people are in isolation by themselves. People are losing their jobs, losing family members, losing large aspects of life that used to bring them joy.

To project toxic positivity during this time is emotionally harmful. Throughout this pandemic, we are all battling anxiety and uncertainty, and even fear of what the future holds. For many, simply getting up and making it through another day is an accomplishment during this pandemic. Nevertheless, social media is full of people encouraging you to “Use this time to be productive!” What many may not take into account is that not everyone copes by being “productive.” Right now, the entire world is facing a crisis. It is okay to not be okay. It’s actually very normal.

So, how do we cope?

During this pandemic and with toxic positivity in general, it’s important to feel your feelings. Acknowledge whatever you are feeling, good or bad. Journaling, art, and keeping in touch with family and friends can help with expressing emotions. It is also important to listen to and validate others close to you, even if your feelings are not the same. Another key coping mechanism is to pay attention to social media. How do you feel when you consume social media? Don’t hesitate to take a break, unfollow anyone you feel may attribute to toxic positivity. Most importantly, while you navigate these trying times, make sure you recognize the toxic positivity message, and remember that it is okay to not be okay.

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