Processing Outweighs Positivity
We’ve all seen them, those signs, memes or slogans that advise “Good vibes only!” or “Stay positive!” They’re probably even more prominent now as the country continues to grapple with the fallout of a global pandemic that has ravaged the economy, upended school schedules and just generally spiked anxiety levels.
Of course, doses of positivity can be a good thing. But even some of the best-placed efforts to “lighten up” can have a dark side. Forcing too much positivity without acknowledging feelings of uncertainty and worry can be dangerous. It’s something called “toxic positivity” and mental health experts and psychologists are encouraging people to pay attention to the range of their emotions, both when they’re feeling good and maybe not so good.
Leaning too heavily on the “things will be fine” mentality can prohibit individuals from understanding, accepting and even addressing problems that exist. It’s important to realize that difficult situations can be all around us that have a range of remedies - from quick fixes to some that require long-range solutions to those that don’t have any resolution, but instead require deep contemplation and acceptance.
While it might not seem like it, taking steps to accept negative emotions may be more helpful to individuals than just throwing a blanket of positivity over them. A study from 2018 found that those who steered clear of challenging emotions, instead of acknowledging and working through them, ended up feeling worse.
A way to “work through” some of those complicated feelings? Writing about them. It can be as easy as using a word prompt to start putting down on paper the way you’re feeling as a way to release those emotions. Starting with a word like “angry” or “sad” and then allowing yourself to jot down related words or feelings can be cathartic. It can be something you do for a few minutes or something longer if that additional time is something that works and is beneficial.
Meditation can be another way to acknowledge and understand difficult emotions. This process, particularly one that repeats words or phrases or encourages focus on them, can allow individuals to set aside some of the “outside noise” of life and really hone in on emotions.
Verbalizing emotions and talk therapy are other ways to cope with difficult emotions, instead of painting over them. This can include peer support, individual counseling, family therapy, support groups and group therapy in different settings and with different focuses.
Instead of limiting ourselves to the “good vibes only” mantra, it’s important to remember that “it’s okay not to be okay” and to work through our feelings.