Nursing Review Issue 2 March-April 2022 - Page 21

specialty focus to depression and anxiety , so that sort of pressure is actually itself quite harmful .
specialty focus to depression and anxiety , so that sort of pressure is actually itself quite harmful .
It may also happen when someone tells us about something that ’ s not going so well , and we tell them to cheer up , ‘ come on , it ’ s not that bad ’ or ‘ turn the frown upside down ’. It ’ s the difference between being willing to sit with that and to actually acknowledge how a person really feels , versus trying to move away from it quickly and turn it into something which is more positive and therefore more comfortable .
What are some of the mental health implications you ’ ve seen through your research on toxic positivity ? Most of our research is actually centred more on that unwillingness or that social pressure to avoid negative emotion , which I think is the thing that defines toxic positivity . Our other research has shown that when people do feel that they have this pressure on them to maintain positive emotion and they can ’ t experience that negative emotion , they feel bad about themselves . Of course , that leads to more negative emotion , more rumination , more depression and reduced satisfaction with life .
If people have an experience of failure , and we know failure is an important part of learning , they often worry about it more , they feel worse as a result of having had that failure , and again , responding poorly to failure is not only bad for our mental health it ’ s also bad for innovation , creativity , psychological safety in the workplace , and a range of other things .
Other work has certainly shown that this perceived social pressure is quite central to people ’ s depressive symptoms . It actually sits quite centrally to their experience of depression . When people do feel that pressure around them , rather than making them happier and forcing them out of their negative mood it actually makes them feel more isolated , lonely , disconnected and therefore more depressed .
We ’ ve seen these ‘ stay happy ’, ‘ look on the bright side ’ messages ramp up during the pandemic . What is it about these kinds of crises that encourage this ? It ’ s probably the outpouring of negative thoughts and feelings that people actually do have and people ’ s discomfort with that . I guess people think they ’ re doing the right thing . Most people are not trying to be toxic , they ’ re trying to be helpful . They think , ‘ if we can just move away from all that uncomfortable negative stuff quickly , the better we ’ ll all be for it ’. But it actually doesn ’ t work that way .
If people aren ’ t able to sit with their own uncomfortable negative emotions and thoughts , it tends to exacerbate them . A lot of psychological therapy is actually targeted at getting people to feel more comfortable with some of those experiences because it ’ s a better way to respond to them , it tends to reduce not increase our experience of them , and it makes them weaker , not stronger .
Sometimes our best intentions and our best intuitions lead us astray .
What are some useful remedies to combat toxic positivity ? Just realising that talking about some of these negative experiences with other people is actually really important . And it ’ s not that we are going to open up a Pandora ’ s Box or become endlessly depressed if we actually acknowledge how we feel or let someone else acknowledge how they feel .
I think managers often worry about this if they let the team express some of their discontent . I don ’ t think that ’ s the case at all . In fact , it ’ s a very important pathway to good effective engagement , to creating a sense of meaningful engagement and connection between people in the workplace .
I think we ’ ve got to move away from the idea that we are best off avoiding these experiences . That means understanding how to be comfortable with them not only in ourselves , but also in our interactions with other people . One of those key tools is just recognising that sometimes turning around and sitting with them , and not struggling with them , not trying to escape from things which are uncomfortable , is actually the best way to deal with them and the best approach to manage them .
It can be difficult , and I suppose there are issues of power and status , and how much you can influence the culture of the environment that you are in . But I think being a bit more authentic with that and feeling that it ’ s okay to respond , well actually I haven ’ t been feeling fantastic , and being a bit more honest and open .
When you do express it in that way the other person will be forced at least to acknowledge , ‘ okay , well that ’ s what you said ’. They may not feel comfortable with it , but maybe they ’ ll learn to . I guess as with any cultural change , it ’ s always brought about by small steps from individuals .
“ Sometimes our best intentions and our best intuitions lead us astray .
One of the interesting things is its often through sharing and talking about some of our negative and unpleasant experiences that we actually breed stronger connections . Often we worry that this is going to break down relationships , and if we don ’ t always just make it pleasant and positive that people won ’ t want to be around us and our relationships will suffer . But actually it ’ s not that way at all , and often our relationships grow and strengthen as a result of sharing some of that unpleasant and uncomfortable content , even when it ’ s about each other .
What are some ways we can find balance between remaining positive , while also being honest with ourselves about how we feel ? Being honest with ourselves about how we feel is a pathway to being happy . It ’ s the first step in the journey to actually building better , to improving , to gaining a bit more of that wellbeing in life .
It is better to be happy more often than not , but I think it ’ s how we pursue that happiness , and again , when we pursue it in a way which leads us to respond poorly to those experiences we do inevitably have , then it ’ s not a good way doing it .
There are other avenues , and they are often more indirect . Often our happiness is best facilitated by doing things that are meaningful or worthwhile in and of themselves . Not just because we feel happier or because it ’ s going to make us happy , but because it makes a difference , because it helps somebody else , because it contributes to the world in a meaningful or fruitful way .
That will probably make us happy . But again , we ’ re not betting our happiness on it , and we ’ re not assessing constantly : ‘ Well hang on a sec , am I as happy as I thought I was going to be after I did this ?’ Our happiness is actually now just sitting in the background , but that tends to be a good thing , and actually it tends to work best in that way .
So we should focus our attention elsewhere . There ’ s a lot of good and important , meaningful things that we can do in this world , and if we focus our attention there happiness tends to follow up from behind . ■
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