Many people today try to maintain a positive attitude in every situation and at all costs. Negative or difficult emotions are avoided and masked behind a smile and “positive vibes only” attitude. While it’s generally a great idea to maintain an optimistic, positive view of life and situations, the problem comes when we try to avoid any and all negative emotions- burying or repressing anything that isn’t 100% positive. The result is poor coping skills, shame, and bottling up emotions that eventually implode from the inside out. This makes coping with life much more difficult than it needs to be instead of feeling and processing through our emotions and then releasing them in a healthy way.
Without much surprise, I believe the rise in social media is a big reason why we see this so prevalent. When we only post our “highlight reels” of us living our absolute best lives, even the very normal and mundane events of day to day life seem lackluster. Research has shown time and time again that social media feeds depression and feelings of inadequacy. We wonder why our own lives and situations aren’t perfectly curated and polished and we suppress the very things that make us human- vulnerability and emotion- and to maintain an image of “everything’s perfect!” and “look how #blessed I am in my perfect life!”
Other ways we promote toxic positivity is by both shaming ourselves and others when a negative emotion or feeling arises by suggesting they/we just immediately shift to a positive outlook. Again, this can be helpful in keeping the big picture in mind, but generally when we avoid difficult thoughts and feelings, they just get bigger and can cause even more stress and mental health issues down the road. You may find that in doing so, it spills over into other aspects of your life or causes you to overreact to small inconsequential things. The first step is to accept that life isn’t all rainbows, but a balance of both sunshine and rain. Normalize it and make it safe to feel that both in yourself and with others.
Strategies for Coping
Some helpful things you can say to yourself or a friend going through a rough time is “That makes sense you’d feel that way”, “I understand and went through something similar”, “It’s ok to not be ok”, “This too shall pass”, or “So far you’ve survived 100% of your bad days, you’re doing great and will get through this”. When we create and hold space for ourselves and others, we are better able to process through difficulties and move forward. It’s amazing how much better we feel through finding some outlet for processing our difficult emotions. This can include journaling, speaking to a trusted friend or professional, being in nature, disconnecting from social media, taking a bath, and generally being gentle with yourself. Deep breathing exercises (xhalr.com, BreathPacer App) and guided meditations (Calm & Headspace Apps) are also some of the most effective ways to process emotions and calm our nervous systems. Remember, you are human- not a robot or machine. We just need to acknowledge how we feel without judgement. Ask yourself “what am I feeling and needing right now?” and to do something that feels nourishing to you in the moment. Check in with yourself and do this several times a day. No emotion is bad or wrong, it’s just part of being human.