Thoughts on Toxic Positivity?

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Microsoft

There's been a lot of talk around the concept of "toxic positivity" (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/toxic-positivity-mental-health-covid/2020/08/19/5d...) - what are your thoughts on this especially in a work setting? I have heard from community folks in other countries (especially in tradition-steeped Asian cities like Japan and Korea) where this is a consistent pressure to make it look like everything is great, never showing any "cracks" and keeping a smile on at all times. What advice would you give to folks who experience this pressure in the workplace, and how can they find outlets to cope with it?

11 Replies
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@ShonaBang 

 

I used to be a lot like that.  I put a brave face on things and kept stresses and struggles internal.  Then I broke down.  It was the weirdest thing - my anxiety manifests itself physically, at least that's how it feels.  I thought that there was something seriously wrong with me.  Turns out it was my first panic attack.  Took me a long time to accept that this is what it was, but medication and counselling helped me through.  Talking is the best medicine, and people are willing to listen.

 

Now I immediately speak up if I recognize any of the signs that I'm stressed or anxious.  Only the other week in fact I needed to ask for help and take a break.  I encourage anyone to reach out for help if you are in the same position.  :smile:

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So many thoughts on this one, @ShonaBang - so many!

 

From the work side, I feel that this unfortunately happens in a LOT of countries and in a LOT of organizations, in all honesty. While this may have been happening before COVID-19, it may have certainly gained traction (in a not so good way) considering that most of us still rely on video conferencing and calls. First, it's hard to really read body language when all you see is someone's face/shoulders. Then conversational language sets in where sometimes it sounds like it's just easier to brush off the negative discussions (or tough conversations when things aren't ok), and talk the positive path or "just smile". I can tell you from experience over the past few months that this is NOT a good path to choose.

 

Authenticity rules, and yes, while it does take charisma and strength to say "No, I really am NOT ok today" or the "I'm doing the best I can, I am enough" phrases, showing these "cracks" should be welcomed and contributes to both the work culture and diversity. I now find myself frequently saying "I'm here, you're here - let's get what we can done and adjust as needed" instead of the "Lets do this"!

 

As for general toxic positivity, I honestly fell into a trap early on (but quickly stopped) with the "now that you're working from home or are quarantined, you have more time to upskill or do that thing you've been meaning to do". That very quickly put incredible pressure not only on myself, but others in my life!

 

Ways that I have coped with it were to reach out to some of my "confidants" to just talk about my feelings and experiences, simply asking others for help, looking to inspiration from other folks sharing these same "it's ok to not be ok" stories, and truly focusing on spending time with folks/family that really matter to you.

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I also want to add that this toxic positivity concept also brings folks very close to experiencing mental burnout. I think about this talk given by @Sonia Cuff at MSIgnite 2018, and still remember closing my eyes and putting my hand up (with tears rolling down my cheeks):

https://youtu.be/EcYZl75nmqM

 

If this moves you as well, please do reach out - would be happy to talk about my experiences and help or just listen to you!

IT has always been an industry of high performance and pressure, but lately the pace of change has accelerated and systems are expected to be always on. Can ...
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Kudos to you Peter on finding your source of strength to speak up and acknowledge when things are not OK. I 100% agree with you that anxiety manifests itself physically - I think it happens for a lot of people, but in different ways. I remember a time when I was feeling really stressed and had a bout of random eczema develop on my upper arms. Doctors couldn't figure out what it was and no topical treatment seemed to work - That was when I realized that maybe I was going through something internally and needed to take a step back to assess what was happening in my life and make adjustments as needed. I certainly wish more people knew that it's OK to ask for help, you don't have to suffer alone, and to take a break when you feel like you're hitting burnout. I've always believed that you are better able to take care of others when you first take care of yourself - now it's just a matter of putting that principle into practice! :)
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@SheBoss 

 

I am very lucky in that the company I work for are so aware and supportive of mental health, amongst many other relevant issues.  This makes such a difference and not everyone is so fortunate, so I sure don't take that for granted.  

 

I take my hat off to anyone brave enough to speak up.  It's not easy.  

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Wow these are great responses, everyone! @Chris you definitely nailed this one :) It's funny because when I first moved to the US I always wondered why people started conversations with "How are you?" but not REALLY want to know the true answer. I think it's great that we're starting to normalize being our authentic selves by responding truthfully with things like "You know, I could be better", or "Not feeling great today, but it is what it is" instead of always saying a cheery "GREAAAAT!" when things are in fact NOT always great. Who knows, coming up with a unique response might be a way to invite conversation about mental wellness and BOTH parties might end up benefiting from it! :)
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@ShonaBang 

 

This is so true.  I wish we could have the confidence to reply honestly when asked how we are.  I think that in general we all feel that by putting ourselves out there like that, that we may be unfairly putting people under pressure, combined with the fear of a lack of empathy and support in response.  

 

I'm really interested to hear how things differ around the world.  It sounds as if there are a lot of differences.  In the UK, things are improving a lot I feel, but there is still an overarching sense of "just get on with it" at times too.  There is still so much to be learned.

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Cultural differences is an interesting factor for sure - I've lived in Singapore, Canada and the US so I can only speak to my experiences in these 3 countries so far. In Singapore (and most of Asia, really), mental health is certainly not openly discussed. People are often afraid of saying the wrong thing, getting too personal, and there is a general unspoken assumption that "if there was something you wanted to tell me, you would've; but if you don't mention it or bring it up, it's not my place to ask". So people do sometimes skirt around the issue instead of addressing it directly. It can be very subtle, and even between close friends/family members it takes a lot of courage to talk about it.

In the US, I think people are more open/receptive, probably because like what the other poster said, the media is talking about it more, we see more podcasts about mental health, and there's even Mental Health Awareness Day/Months being observed. That said, just because people are hearing/reading about mental health more doesn't mean they necessarily know what to do to cope with it, so dialogues like these are very important.

@Jess Dodson who has just joined the AMA and taking over the APAC coverage can probably help shed more insight into experiences in Australia too!
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I am 100% the opposite of this. I call a spade a spade. If you follow me on Twitter or have interacted with me in any way, you'll know that I am blunt, honest and sarcastic as hell. Sarcasm helps a hell of a lot in situations like these. But I'm not known for sugar coating or "trying to look on the bright side". I find that there's often comunity in commiseration. So I will often whinge about how crap my day is, how little sleep I got, how much my small human is driving me *INSANE*. And I will have a whole bunch of people who'll jump on and say that it's happening for them too - and we share stories and laugh about how ridiculous this stuff is. Laughter helps, but it's got to be with a heavy dose of reality. And if you can't laugh at life, then you're not seeing the funny side!

 

My best advice is to find your tribe - have a group of people (doesn't have to be huge) that you can go to and lay out all your dramas and worries. These are people you trust, who aren't going to gossip behind your back, who you can share personal and confidential info with knowing that it's not going to go any further. Having that group to talk to, and also being there for them as well, is a HUGE help. My tribe has massively supported through this period of WFH and being distanced.

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@girlgerms 

 

I love that you have the confidence to be that way.  I wish more people would be the same.  In the times we are living though we have to be so careful what we say and even what we think. 

 

It is so easy to unintentionally cause offence.  I do think we have lost the ability to have a bit of humour in our lives because of the fear of offending an individual or even a group or community.  But we do have to be mindful of the feelings of those individuals and communities.  

 

My own view is that there is a balance that needs to be found.  It would be a shame if humanity loses the ability to poke fun at itself and enjoy a bit of harmless humour, but the key to this is understanding what is harmless as opposed to what is hurtful or offensive.

 

Before saying something, I always try and think first "How would that read on Twitter"?  Is this something that could end up being plastered all over the Daily Mail (a UK newspaper who seem to take utter joy at demonizing people for the slightest mistake).

 

So so tricky isn't it.  We just have to try and empathize and care for each other as much as possible, but acknowledge that we are going to make mistakes, and that most importantly we not only need to learn from those mistakes, but we need to be forgiven for them too.  

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Thank you @ShonaBang for bringing up this issue.

I believe instead of sharing words, we have to help them out the best we can and give them solution. We might not have solution for all problems, but we could use power of community to solve problems. Let me share one example, due to COVID-19 one of my contacts shared a post stating someone I know lost his job due to COVID-19 and this is his expertise. I know the guy would be in terrible condition, and telling it would be fine, won't fix the issue. So I shared it with my network and I believe other people also did the same and he find the job. 

I believe we need to put action on solving problems and in case we cannot do that, we could ask experts to help them out. It is always recommended to raise our hand to take someone else's hand and believe me , doing so would cause someone else would raise hand and help you out and we just have to develop this culture.