Toxic positivity in the pandemic
Toxic positivity is a phrase commonly used in social media psychology, and refers to the emotional damage of “being positive” in the face of adversity. Essentially, it conveys that whilst “positive vibes only” might be a catchy phrase, and a nice sentiment, it grossly minimises the emotional challenges that we face, and invalidates human suffering.
When applied to our present challenges, it suggests that others — or even ourselves — may put pressure on us to “make the best of the situation”. This might be experienced as a nullifying of your emotional experience, for example, not giving yourself permission to feel bad or negatively because others have it worse. Or simply thinking that you have to remain upbeat, even when that isn’t how you feel inside.
Many will have experienced toxic positivity as the expectation to be productive, learn a new skill or take a course, finally get around to those DIY tasks at home, have the ultimate spring clean, get the summer body ready or take on a long-procrastinated-on project. If this is working out for you, then, fantastic. As you were!
However, for some, it won’t be quite that straightforward. If you are one of them, it’s OK. This is a time of collective grief, anxiety and uncertainty. Many of us are stressed out and that isn’t always very motivational or even very organising — think headless chicken more than cool and strategic. Also, let’s face it, grief is totally exhausting. You might need time to process your feelings. You might feel sad, overwhelmed and demotivated. You might just need to be. Practise being gentle and accepting with yourself; it is enough to just get by. To keep putting one foot in front of the other.
How we experience the pandemic is likely to be quite varied based on our present situation, our personality, our coping styles and our history. Just like any kind of stress or loss in our life, our response is not simply based on the intensity of the stress; it is an interaction with us and our circumstances and resilience at that particular time. You may notice that you feel very different to others, but that doesn’t mean that you or they are wrong.
So, you don’t have to reinvent yourself, start a new business, become a yogi or a crypto trader during the pandemic just because you have a bit of extra time on your hands. It is fine to simply nurture yourself through a crisis. For anyone struggling at the moment, start by being kind and understanding, and consider these tips on coping:
• Try to maintain a normal waking/sleep routine. Disrupting your sleep routine can play havoc with your mental health
• Try to get a little walk or fresh air daily. Exercise if you can
• Keep a self-care routine — bathing, laundry, eating. Although simple, when we feel unmotivated, we can easily get out of a routine
• Practise a mini-relaxation session and/or breath work technique. Try alternate nostril breathing where — holding one nostril closed — you inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other. Try this for a couple of minutes
• Stay connected with others, particularly those you can be yourself with
• Value your productivity as is. Appreciate yourself for coping thus far
• Try to do one thing every day that brings you happiness
• Gemma Harris, ClinPsyD, is Director of Corporate Wellness at Solstice, and writes on Instagram as @theexdoctor