Dr. Maneet Bhatia, Clinical Psychologist, discussed the pressure to stay positive during the COVID-19 pandemic – also known as ‘toxic positivity’. View the video here or read the transcript below:
“Hey, Dr. Bhatia here. Hope wherever you’re watching this, you’re keeping safe and healthy. I just had a chance to be on the Here and Now radio show with Gill Deacon regarding talking about toxic positivity. And it was a great conversation with her. I always enjoyed being on the radio with her and hopefully reaching some people with our conversations regarding mental health, trauma, anxiety, depression, and more.
Is a Positive Mindset Helpful or Harmful?
I want to just kind of elaborate and share a bit more about what I talked about with her in this space. So what we talked about was this idea, especially right now, during COVID-19 about this idea of just stay positive. Always have a positive mindset and no matter what happens, be positive. And there’s something that can be unhealthy about that. When we don’t acknowledge, don’t accept, or tune into our negative feelings, we’re dismissing ourselves.
We’re not giving ourselves permission to have genuine normal feelings, and those get buried inside of us and they can cause psychological and emotional, and physical distress. So the main point is it’s okay to be not okay. What I would say especially right now during a pandemic, given everything we’ve been going through the last almost a year now, it’s actually psychologically healthy to acknowledge I’m not feeling psychologically okay.
That means you’re acknowledging your limits. You’re paying attention to yourself. You’re tuning into yourself. You’re recognizing the struggle and that’s very normal. And those of you who know me or have gone through the journey of therapy, a lot of times patients walk into therapy and say, “Hey, I want to get to a place where I never feel anxious. I never feel sad. I never feel angry. I never get upset. I’m just always happy. Can you help me?” And to that I say, “No, you’re at the wrong place because my goal is not here to turn people into machines.”
Negative & Positive Emotions are Normal
There’s something very human about feeling your emotions, negative emotions, positive emotions. We need to be okay with having those emotions. The intention is good, when someone’s down or out and you feel you want to help them. And you genuinely mean like it’s going to be okay and we’re going to get past this. That’s an understandable position to have. But the best place to start is to meet them where they’re at.
It’s saying, “I hear you. I feel for you. I understand you’re struggling. I can appreciate that. I am too. How can I help?” Sometimes just helping them as being able to hear them, not to brush it under with some stroke of it’ll be okay or just stay positive, it’ll be fine. Just be with them. That lets them know that you are here and you’re listening and doesn’t make them feel judged or feel shame or feel pressure.
It’s also important to recognize that the goal in life is not to have just positive illusions or to always have this positive idea. We also don’t want to have very negative and always negative thoughts. There’s toxic negativity and that’s linked to depression and anxiety. The goal is to have healthy, balanced perspectives. Healthy, balanced perspective on what’s going on.
So when things are making you sad, you can be sad and you can have grief. When a limit needs to be set, you can be angry and be assertive. When something positive happens, you enjoy it, you embrace it. But blind optimism or constant negativity, these extreme polarities are what cause dysfunction psychologically and lead to difficulties with our wellbeing.
It’s Okay to Not be Okay Right Now
So the goal here is to meet the challenges, meet life for what it is with compassion, with self-love, self-care, and with honesty without judgment, and to recognize your limits and your unique battles. So towards that end, I just want to say once again, it’s okay to not be okay and we’ll get through this and it takes time but it’s important to continue to stay … Tune into yourself and to check-in with yourself.