Have you ever said ‘It’s okay, I’m fine’ when you really weren’t? Or painted on a smile when you were really struggling? If you have, you’ve indulged in toxic positivity – and these days, it’s widespread. You’ll see it on social media and maybe even hear it from friends and family when they tell you to look on the bright side.
For the uninitiated, toxic positivity is the urge to silence negative thinking and the belief that we should put a positive spin on every circumstance, no matter how crushing or trying. It’s when you do your best to appear unrelentingly positive and brush over your struggles by pretending to be happy.
Think of it as a symptom of #GoodVibesOnly: we’re taught to avoid negative thinking at all costs, even if doing so makes us feel worse. In fact, research shows that excessive optimism does exactly that: it can trivialise a person’s pain and cause stress to both the body and the brain.
Here at The Head Plan, we love to share the power of positivity far and wide because we know just how life-changing it can be. But we also know life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows and remaining upbeat all of the time is just impossible.
Here’s the good news: you can still create your dream life while honouring how you really feel. Positivity can help us remain upbeat through difficult times, but negativity is an important and unavoidable part of life too, and there’s a balance to be struck between them.
Here’s how to embrace a healthy outlook on life and avoid the trap of toxic positivity...
How To Avoid Toxic Positivity
Feel all your feelings
Let us ask you this: when you’re feeling low have you ever stopped to sit with your emotions? Have you sat still and allowed those emotions to just be? This is the process of feeling your feelings, instead of trying to repress them or push them away.
To deepen this practice, you might like to open The Head Plan Productivity & Wellness Journal and write honestly about how you feel – it can be incredibly freeing when you do, but we get it, it can also be uncomfortable. That’s because acknowledging your true emotions can make you feel incredibly vulnerable.
Here’s the thing though, we need these vulnerable moments in order to experience all the good stuff, like love, joy and happiness. Just ask Brene Brown, a leading voice on vulnerability.
She says, “You can't numb hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions… when we numb [the heard emotions], we also numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”
In other words, without the dark, we’d never see the stars.
Focus on healing
It might not always feel like it, but bad feelings are actually a blessing. They draw our attention to areas of improvement, highlight where we feel most insecure, and allow us to heal from bad experiences and limiting beliefs. They is an opportunity to do some serious soul searching.
When you’re ready, take the time to explore where your darker emotions come from. What causes you to feel low? What limiting beliefs, bad experiences, and long-held insecurities could be at their root? Think of it as a self-therapy session.
You know that saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved?’. It’s true, just consult the science. Californian researchers discovered that discussing our problems with others can dramatically decrease stress. In another study, 36 per cent of people said they felt brighter and more optimistic when they stopped bottling things up.
So, what are you waiting for? Reach out to a trusted friend and let them know when you’re feeling low. Sometimes we conceal our true emotions because we don’t want to be a burden on others, but the people who truly love and care about you, want to listen to what you have to say. When you share, not only does it provide relief, it improves your connection with others too.
Get this: as humans, we are more motivated to avoid pain than we are to seek pleasure. That’s why negative circumstances can be such a powerful catalyst for change – and reflection is the vehicle that’ll help you navigate it.
It’s the very reason we’ve included weekly reflection pages in The Head Plan Productivity & Wellness Journal. We encourage you to note down what was a distraction to you each week and what steps you can take to overcome it in the future.
Think of it as an opportunity to take stock and change direction. Rather than numbing negativity, you’re taking a proactive approach to overcome it. Self-growth, coming right up.
Celebrate the good
Positivity turns toxic when we try to mask difficult times and push them away. But you can acknowledge the bad times while appreciating all that you still have to be grateful for in life. The Head Plan Gratitude Journal is a lovely space to practise gratitude, we are aware every day is not a good day but we know there is good in every day when you look for it.
You could start by recognising what a great support your friends and family are to you in tough times or express gratitude for the familiar comforts that give you relief on a hard day.
If it feels right, you might even like to express gratitude for your negative feelings and all that they are teaching you. After all, we grow more in struggle than we do in times of ease.
All vibes welcome…
Know this: life is beautiful and sometimes it gets messy. Whatever the world throws at you, you don’t need to be happy and have high vibes all of the time. If a friend was going through a rocky patch, you wouldn’t expect her to pretend otherwise. Extend that same kindness to yourself and remember this: when you’re feeling low, a little self-compassion goes a long way.