Toxic Positivity

This past month saw the dreaded return of a national lockdown. Dreaded not just because of the loss of freedoms it represents, but also its morbid reminder of the ongoing threat of an international pandemic. To be fearful, disappointed, or frustrated with these developments is a natural reaction and to be honest, I’m not writing this to tell you that it’s wrong either.

Some time ago I was introduced to the phrase “Toxic Positivity”. Positivity is important to maintaining one’s outlook in stressful times. However, sometimes, in our rejection of negativity, we can get caught in unhelpful ruts and fallacies. Attitudes that encourage hiding your feelings or invalidating your experiences are all part of toxic positivity. They brush over important feelings without addressing their root or your feelings and can do more harm than good.

This isn’t to say positivity is a bad thing. It’s just important to ensure we are being both critical and above all empathetic. When people express their negative feelings, sometimes they are simply trying to vent and express themselves. If they are doing so privately to you, it’s important to recognise that they have chosen you to share potentially sensitive issues and emotions. Commiserate with them, sympathise, share your experiences and, if prompted, give advice. 

When it comes to lockdown, lots of us are feeling shades of frustration and despondency. And it’s important that we feel safe expressing this. Quarantine isn’t made any easier by its necessity, so understand that there’s no shame in expressing yourself.

There are all sorts of healthy outlets for our feelings and frustrations. Conversations with loved ones are always a good idea, allowing you to decompress and bond. If you have them, this might be a good opportunity to talk candidly with your children, to show them that they’re not alone in their frustration.

Cathartic activities like sports, cooking, crafts and even games can help one vent, while being constructive and active. 

Keeping a diary of your thoughts and feelings will help externalise those experiences. You could even share that diary online, so that you can connect with others over shared experiences. 

Engaging in creative hobbies such as music or art are good for many of the same reasons, and if you don’t currently have any such hobbies then there’s never a better time than the present.

In the last few months I’ve taken up pickling, something that one might not associate with a healthy expression of feelings, but the ability to produce something enjoyable for myself and others has done a world of good for me in a time when it’s easy to feel isolated and afraid. 

Putting together a healthy balance of flavours to create something with subtle reminders of what you put into it, far greater than a sum of its parts, is a uniquely rewarding process that perhaps can be an apt metaphor for healthy outlooks on mental health. 

As I’ve written this piece, I’ve struggled with concerns that I’ve been rehashing thoughts from my previous blog, or even just thoughts I’ve shared in the past. However, I’ve also realised that perhaps these things bear repeating. A support network can be easily forgotten if the people in it don’t remind you that they are there. So, in that vein, I’m writing once again to remind you, and all those you care about to, express yourself openly and freely. Don’t be afraid to be known. Opening your heart to others means exposing your vulnerabilities to them, not covering them up and pushing them down inside. 

So once more, this is Levi Exton writing for Boys in Mind, wishing you all a safe, healthy, and happy lockdown. 

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