by Amaranth Xena Soleil Saludar
With all the negativity that we experience lately, perhaps it is easier to refuse believing the reality at hand and just look at the bright side than to accept what the pandemic has brought upon the world, believing that it saves us from anxiety, burnout, fatigue, fear, mass panic, and other psychological distresses.
But that is not how it works.
What may seem easier to do is not what is always better. Mind that the said psychological issues are not the only ones that arise and negatively affect during a pandemic; too much denial and toxic positivity can also take a toll on one’s mental health.
What are denial and toxic positivity?
Denial, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is “a defense mechanism in which unpleasant thoughts, feelings, wishes, or events are ignored or excluded from conscious awareness.” It is “an unconscious process that functions to resolve emotional conflict or reduce anxiety.”
During these times, it manifests through:
- a certain kind of political partisan;
- the medically uninformed (usually, teenagers, people in their 20s, and science skeptics), and;
- those with a tendency to conspiracy theories;
or an overlap between the three, according to Academic Psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi in The Psychology of Pandemic Denial.
Meanwhile, toxic positivity, according to Tanglaw Mental Health, is “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy and optimistic state in any situation — in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of genuine human emotional experience.” It manifests through hiding, downplaying, dismissing, and/or feeling guilty for the negative experiences – may it be one’s own or others’ – that make one human, living their life that way.
Given the mechanisms and manifestations of denial and toxic positivity, especially during a pandemic, let us now take a look and focus on their possible negative effects on our well-being.
How can they affect us?
● There can be a negative influence on others and their behavior.
Ghaemi said that denial shows through a government repressing its medical experts because of political agenda; the medically uninformed either dismissing facts or spreading misinformation about the pandemic; and people creating or introducing conspiracy theories, instead of addressing the scientifically proven causes of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, toxic positivity, as explained in Psychologist Konstantin Lukin’s article, makes unpleasant emotions bigger; causes us to lose valuable information about our surroundings; and, when we do not pay attention to negative feelings, it makes us less approachable and relatable.
● There can be a tendency of being too idealistic.
Being idealistic is to visualize things in an “ideal or perfect” manner. Although it helps one to be hopeful, to bounce back from adversities, and to look at the bright side as stated in The Pros of Being an Idealist by SoHoSoleil; too much of this may keep us away from the touch of reality and make us unaware of the agonies that the pandemic has caused – it is also important to face all the facts of the current crisis.
● There can be a false sense of security.
Downplaying the seriousness of this issue may lead to invalidating the negative emotions we feel towards it. Thinking that we do not have to worry about the pandemic may affect how we maintain and prioritize our overall well-being. Please know that the right amount of worry is good for us, take it from University of California, Riverside Psychology Professor Kate Sweeny.
How can one cope?
● Take a social media break.
Given the ongoing quarantine, you tend to spend most of your time on social media. According to Kristen Fuller, taking social media breaks is good for your mental health and social life. These are the tips she uses to break away from social media:
- Put your phone down (and out of reach).
- Set limits of its use.
- Turn off notifications and set virtual boundaries.
- Set “phone free zones” in the house.
- Schedule “social media free days.”
- Delete social media applications from your phone.
- Respond offline (if possible).
● Process and properly express emotions.
You may not realize that the customary way you deal with your (negative) emotions is not good for you after all. How can you start turning it into a healthy one? Here are the techniques we can take from Certified Health Coach Rezzan Huseyin’s How To Process Your Emotions:
Four Stages of Processing Emotions
- Naming (emotions)
- Maybe some action
Nine-step Process for Processing Emotions
- See it.
- Say it.
- Sense it.
- Stay with it.
- Relax into it.
- Reconnect with the reality.
- Reframe the experience more objectively.
- Become present again.
● Exercise mindfulness.
According to Mayo Clinic, mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus on being intensely conscious of what you sense and feel at the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing this will help you experience thoughts and emotions with greater balance and acceptance. These are some of the simple ways noted:
- Pay attention.
- Live in the moment.
- Accept yourself.
- Focus on your breathing.
If you plan to do a structured mindfulness exercise, you may try:
- Body scan meditation
- Sitting meditation
- Walking meditation
You can make these mindfulness exercises a part of your routine to maintain your well-being.