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Toxic positivity: When "good vibes" hurt mental health

Positive thinking generally benefits your mental health. Toxic positivity is one exception. Keep reading to learn what toxic positivity could sound like in your life, how to avoid it and explore treatment options when you’re ready to create a customized care plan for you.

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity can happen if you routinely ignore negative emotions and pretend everything is OK. Think of it as a temporary bandage that covers but doesn’t heal emotional wounds. Dismissing your true feelings can cause more harm than good to your mental health.

Toxic positivity examples

Toxic positivity isn’t always easy to identify in yourself or others, but you’ve likely heard some common phrases encouraging you to dismiss negative emotions. Consider how these common sayings might fuel toxic positivity.

  • Things could be worse. While the Midwestern catch-all phrase is often true, saying “Things could be worse” could unintentionally come off as insensitive. Instead, consider saying, “I’m ready to listen” or “I’m here for you” and ask how you can help as your schedule allows. 
  • Happiness is a choice. You can manage some aspects of your happiness, but everyone experiences emotions differently. Happiness isn’t always a choice when you have a mental illness such as depression or coping with grief after a traumatic loss.
  • Positive vibes only. People using toxic positivity may ask you to surrender all your negative thoughts and only be positive for their benefit. Your positive and negative feelings are equally important. Your emotions help you understand your needs, safety and desires.
  • You’ll get back on your feet soon. Experiencing a layoff or financial stress can trigger anxiety and crush self-esteem. If you offer someone reassurance for a brighter future, don’t forget to acknowledge the present challenge and validate their emotions.

How to ask your boss for a mental health day.

Avoiding toxic positivity

  • Be realistic about your emotions. Pay attention to how you genuinely feel. Your emotions are valid and should be honored and accepted, and it’s common for different feelings to coexist. For example, it’s possible to experience joy and grief at the same time.

    Ready to create a customized mental health care plan for your routine, health needs and wellness goals? Start an on demand virtual visit now or schedule an in-person appointment.
  • Limit your exposure to toxic positivity. Surrounding yourself with positive people can benefit your mental health. But spending too much time with people fluent in toxic positivity can become a problem. Set boundaries with people who try to shame you for sharing your authentic emotions.

  • Take a break from social media. Toxic positivity manifests itself on social media by pressuring you to share the best version of yourself. The next time you browse social media, think of others’ posts as a highlight reel instead of a play-by-play. Even your favorite celebrity or social media influencer experiences negative emotions. Take a break from social media if it brings on more negative than positive emotions.

Approaching toxic positivity

No one wants to see a loved one experience emotional pain—it’s human nature. Be thoughtful about your approach if you initiate a conversation or respond to someone’s concerns.

  • Welcome all emotions. Everyone’s feelings are unique. Recognize that it’s OK to experience negative emotions. If you recognize that you or someone else may be using toxic positivity to cope with negative emotions, encourage them to speak freely.
  • Listen and validate how others feel. You may feel tempted to offer a quick fix or say whatever you can to make someone feel better in the moment. That approach can make them feel ignored, unheard or upset. Many just want an open ear instead of advice or an immediate solution. Listening to others facing a difficult situation can make them feel heard and understood. Be mindful, give them your undivided attention and avoid judgment.

When to seek support for toxic positivity

While overcoming negative situations can build resilience, remember that it’s OK to get and accept help. Consider professional mental health support if you find yourself using toxic positivity, drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety, depression or other concerns.

Easily connect with a mental health consultant in-person or virtually when you’re ready to get care on your terms on your schedule. Your Allina Health account makes it easy to sign in and get care, whether you schedule an appointment or talk with the next available mental health consultant.

If you are experiencing a medical or mental health emergency, call 911 or visit the closest Emergency Department.

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