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Jun 03, 2021

Let’s face it, life is not always a walk in the proverbial park. Sometimes it’s hard, frightening and filled with a lot of bad news – need we mention climate change, a global pandemic and the extinction of the humble honeybee. One can understand the need for positivity. But too much of a good thing can end up being a bad thing. These days, there is a lot of pressure to turn that frown upside down, even when you’re feeling like you can’t. This inclination towards perpetual ‘sun-shininess’ has a name: it’s called toxic positivity – and it’s belittling our natural responses to feeling down.

While we’re not suggesting that everyone settle down in a communal pit of despair, we are saying that those negative emotions have their place, and that they need to be felt and dealt with. This may reduce the chances of any long term effects from bottling up or suppressing such emotions.

We all know people – be it friends, family, or peers – who tell us to, “stay positive”, “count your blessings” or have “positive vibes only”, when we’re feeling bleak. These pick-me-up one-liners are intended to ease our pain (occasionally they do), but most of the time, they end up being a badly applied plaster on a gaping emotional wound.

When these wallpaper expressions are doled out, it can leave us feeling unheard, uncared for or even shamed. Positivity can turn toxic when we begin to feel:

  • That our true feelings are being dismissed or belittled by the people we open up to
  • Shamed, blamed and guilty for feeling that way
  • Weak, because we can’t adopt a “positive outlook” despite what we’re dealing with
  • Lonely and isolated when the people we turn to avoid our “negative attitude”
  • Judged for being a Debbie (or a Daniel) downer

Mental health isn’t about being happy every minute of every day. A good mindset integrates the positive and the negative. It acknowledges that whole human beings need to feel and express their negative emotions in order to avoid greater distress, which could manifest as rage, insomnia, weight loss or gain, substance abuse, depression and/or anxiety.

So, what we’re trying to say is that toxic-positivity hacks us off (see, already sharing our negative emotions more freely), which is why we’ve decided to post a few tips on how to deal with it:

  • Normalise your negative feelings. If you’re going through something, those emotions are entirely appropriate.
  • Don’t suppress negative emotions. The more we avoid the way we are genuinely feeling, the more we feel unable to cope. Give them permission to exist by sharing, shouting or ugly crying (at the same time if you like) – it’s a great way to process.
  • Don’t feel guilty for sharing. If the person you’re talking to responds with toxic positivity, don’t take it on; they’re not responsible for your feelings and you aren’t responsible for theirs.
  • Remember how you feel. Listen and validate the feelings of people who open up to you. Try your best to be understanding and to feel empathy for their experiences.

If you’ve ever felt a little down in the dumps, you’ll know that, a lot of the time, you just want to be heard. So, make sure you’re really listening if an unhappy friend asks you to be a sounding board.

Bestmed covers chronic medication for major depression on plans Beat4, Pace1, Pace2, Pace3, Pace4 and Pulse2 plans.

Bestmed has also partnered with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) to offer members a free 24-hour mental health helpline, with the aim to support members who are experiencing mental health issues.

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