How to deal with toxic positivity

From focusing on yourself to communicating your feelings with others, here are five ways for you to combat toxic positivity.

Ruth Chan

Enjoys solitude. Finds comfort in watching the sunset and drinking milo.

Published: 4 February 2021, 3:33 PM

Was there ever an instance when you were going through a really tough time, but felt pressured not to feel down because others told you to be grateful for what you have and to stop thinking negative thoughts?

Toxic positivity is real. 

According to Healthline, toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset.

We all know that having a positive outlook on life is good for your mental and emotional well-being. The problem? Life isn’t a bed of roses. We all have to deal with painful emotions and experiences. 

The pressure to appear ‘okay’ all the time may force us to invalidate the emotions we may be feeling. Adopting a ‘positive vibes only’ mentality can elicit feelings of frustration, loneliness and invalidation. It’s ironic that in the pursuit of happiness, we become unhappy instead.

Toxic positivity is not healthy at all, in case you’re still wondering. Here are five ways to handle it.

1. Avoid suppressing your feelings

Psychological studies have shown that hiding our feelings leads to more stress on the body and an increased difficulty avoiding negative thoughts.


If you’re feeling negative emotions and they aren’t acknowledged, they get buried deep within your body which can be detrimental. PHOTO CREDIT: PAOLA CHAAYA VIA UNSPLASH


Acknowledging our feelings and expressing them (both the good and bad) helps us to regulate our stress response.

Negative emotions can cause stress if left unchecked, but they can also provide motivation and determination that can lead to beneficial changes in life.

2. Be realistic

To combat toxic positivity, take small, actionable steps to release the negative emotion at hand. For example, if you’re feeling stressed from school, take deep breaths or look out of the window to clear your mind.

During times of emotional distress, avoid engaging in brand-new tasks that you think will make you feel better. Focus on things that you are already good at instead and stick with them until you feel better.

Don’t expect too much from yourself at one go. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life. Take minute steps that can help improve your situation.

3. Focus on yourself

Once you’ve come to terms with your emotions, learn to let them go. It’s not good to keep mulling over the same dark thoughts over and again.

Letting go can come in the form of finding out what keeps you grounded. It can be spending some me-time on a Friday night, writing in a journal, or engaging in physical activities. 

It’s important to assess how you’re caring for yourself in different domains, namely your body, mind and spirit.

There are plenty of resources for you to take care of yourself.

4. Communicate your feelings with others.

Feeling vulnerable can be scary. However, expressing your feelings and needs to your loved ones can help you feel better about your experiences. It can also improve your relationship with them. 

Studies have shown that people who bottle up their emotions end up being more aggressive and keeping negative thoughts to themselves result in frequent emotional outbursts.


Be honest about your feelings with your loved ones. PHOTO CREDIT: MELISSA ASKEW VIA UNSPLASH


If someone asks how you’re feeling, there’s no need to fake a smile and say that everything is fine if it actually isn’t. A simple and honest answer might actually be better.

Similarly, when others communicate theirs with you, it’s always better to provide support than to offer unsolicited advice.

5. Replace toxic positivity phrases

When comforting others, it is always important to validate whatever they’re feeling. 

Some examples of phrases of invalidation include “it could be worse”, “be grateful for what you have” and “don’t worry about it”.

While these are fairly common phrases, they can be detrimental to our mental well-being as they are a marginalisation of our feelings.


Toxic positivity can often be very subtle, but learning to recognise them can help us better identify this type of behaviour. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/@PSYCHOLOGYANDLOVE


Instead, replace them with phrases such as “Tell me how you’re feeling, I’m listening”, “How can I help you through this difficult time?” and “Everyone’s experiences, strengths and weaknesses are different and that’s okay”.

At the end of the day, true positivity is about accepting all your emotions – the good, the bad and the ugly. While you don’t have to shy away from positivity, it’s good to be real with yourself. Learning to find the balance may not be easy, but it is something that will get easier over time.

If you are looking for more mental well-being resources, check out Youthopia’s resource page with everything from mental health self-assessments to tips for coping with challenging seasons in life.

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