Why Toxic Positivity is a Problem During This Pandemic
Do you feel stressed out by the search for positivity over the course of the last year?
We’ve talked about toxic positivity before, but toxic positivity during the pandemic is real – and it may be affecting you more than you think.
Self-care and positivity are important parts of wellness, but there are times when positivity itself can become just as toxic as negativity, especially during truly trying times in life.
During 2020 and 2021, with everything we’ve collectively faced – including a pandemic – many of us have struggled to maintain positivity, and we’re here today to tell you that that’s okay. It’s not only perfectly normal to feel those heavy feelings when life seems overwhelming, but it is also necessary to feel these emotions in order to heal and learn from them.
Trying to force yourself to remain positive when it feels like the world and its chaos is surrounding you can actually lead to more stress, negativity, and emotional burnout.
So, if you’ve felt pressure to stay cheery and light in the middle of a very stressful year, this article will tell you everything you need to know about how to avoid toxic positivity during the pandemic.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Before we talk about toxic positivity in relation to a pandemic, it would be useful to go over what toxic positivity really is briefly. In a nutshell, toxic positivity is the thought or belief that one should maintain a positive attitude, no matter what circumstances one might be facing.
You can probably see why this can be difficult, impossible, or even harmful in certain situations. It hardly seems appropriate to tell someone to stay positive after they’ve lost a loved one or gone through a traumatic incident.
Rather than helping, toxic positivity can come across as dismissive or insensitive.
So, what other steps might we take during a difficult time?
Time to Face Reality
One thing about toxic positivity is that it can feel invalidating for those who are going through a difficult, challenging time – “look on the bright side” isn’t exactly what you need to hear when you feel positively overwhelmed by life circumstances.
Sometimes the most healing thing we can do is look a situation in the face, recognize it for what it is, and resolve to find a way beyond the hurdle.
Simply glossing over a situation or trying to find the silver lining can not only feel impossible at times, but it isn’t the healthiest way to deal with your frustrating or devastating experiences in life. In fact, you could also look at this version of toxic positivity as another form of denial. But looking on the bright side doesn’t make a global health pandemic disappear.
One of the most beneficial things you can do for your own emotional well-being is acknowledging that some things might really stink right now, but they won’t always.
Don’t Believe the Hype
The hype can be dangerous.
I started to feel pretty down about myself during the last year after seeing so many individuals on social media appearing to thrive and make the best of a bad situation – how anyone managed to lose weight during quarantine is beyond me.
Even with the baseline knowledge that social media is often less authentic than we think, I felt that I must have been doing something wrong if I couldn’t manage to make this pandemic work for me in any positive way.
It’s taken months to finally understand how misleading social media can actually be. And if you’ve been feeling a pang of guilt every time you open Instagram, you’re not alone. It’s time for all of us to realize that not everything you see on social media is true – and many people aren’t sharing their good days as well as their bad.
If you find it too triggering right now, it’s okay to take a step back, take a break, and give yourself time alone to deal with heavy emotions. What’s important is we take time to thank and respect our bodies, not push them beyond what they are capable of.
Accepting What Is
The idea of remaining positive in the face of a pandemic is downright silly when you think about it. It’s wonderful for humankind to come together and support each other during hard times. Still, there’s no reason to pretend like going through a massive global event like this is cheery or hopeful – there are times when you might feel miserable, and that’s completely normal!
That’s why accepting the reality of the situation is important. But accepting what it means to take the good days as well as the bad. Some days contained surprises and joy, others brought pain and fear, and this mirrors the ebb and flow of life that is always present.
You don’t have to pretend to be positive when you’re feeling overwhelmed, nor should you assume that each and every day will be a struggle. It’s all about finding the balance.
Exploring Tragic Optimism
You might be asking yourself what there is to do for someone who’s struggling but wants to maintain hope for the future, and that’s where “tragic optimism” comes in. This concept was first explored and defined by Dr. Viktor Frankl in 1985 to describe a certain feeling:
“It acknowledges the difficulties and the pain and the suffering of what’s going on, and at the same time, the ability to maintain hope.” – Emily Esfahani Smith.
This is the balance we should be seeking right now – the ability to acknowledge a difficult situation for what it is while maintaining a sense of optimism for the future.
Sounds a lot more reasonable than staying positive in the face of overwhelming fear or doubt, right?
Finding a Balance
While you may not want to fall down a rabbit hole of negativity, toxic positivity may bring even more stress into already challenging circumstances.
It’s time to let go of this idea that we must be pleasant and optimistic no matter what, time to find that harmony between accepting what is and hoping for a brighter future.
How will you maintain the balance?
Related article: How I’m Living with Anxiety in a World Pandemic