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Dismissing distress in favour of good vibes only can have an undesired effect. Here’s how to quash toxic positivity and enjoy better emotional health.

It’s a ridiculous understatement to say 2020 hasn’t been a great year. Yet even in the face of job losses, family separations and lockdown-induced health problems, annoying platitudes persist: ‘Don’t be sad’, ‘It will all be fine’, ‘Be grateful for what you have’ or ‘Think happy thoughts’. 

People may mean well, but these kinds of statements can be damaging to mental health because they delegitimise real feelings of distress and reinforce the false idea that positivity can fix all of life’s problems. 

The phenomenon is so prevalent and harmful that psychologists have even given it a name: ‘toxic positivity’. 

“It’s best described as an overly happy and optimistic bias towards any person, task or situation that results in the denial, minimisation and invalidation of unpleasant emotional experiences such as sadness, disappointment or anxiety,” says Dr Yisha Stiskala-Yu, a clinical psychologist at digital psychology platform Lysn.

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