How to deal with toxic positivity when you're burnt out – Sabhalo

How to deal with toxic positivity when you're burnt out

Have you ever heard of toxic positivity?

"Look on the bright side", "It could be worse," "positive vibes only" "No excuses", or my personal favourite "but have you tried going for a walk/meditation/a positive mindset?"

While these things are all individually really good for your mental health - it can be incredibly invalidating when you're not feeling good and someone suggests that your problems could be easily solved by doing something simple like changing your mindset/behaviour.

It implies that the fault is your own for not simply adjusting your mindset and rather than just a normal and completely understandable response - it is in fact a personal flaw.

For the most part when people say these things it absolutely isn't intended to be dismissive - they're not doing it on purpose to hurt you.

The thing is, there is often a need to look away, to shoo and to squash certain feelings because they commonly just make people feel so uncomfortable to be around.

Not all people - but some, and maybe you can question whether you fall into this bracket, yourself - are not comfortable with being unapologetically sad, to appear to be not making it or that they are struggling.

Do you have a tendency hide away? And then resurface when you've seemingly dealt with the situation on your own?

I know I've done it.

I've totally been guilty of not wanting to seem anything other than a #girlboss.

It makes us scared to show vulnerability.

For the most part but I think the dismissive nature of toxic positivity and the fear of being raw and real is amplified by the usage of social media.

Social media can make you feel like it's inherently not okay to not be okay. That you are defective, that you are weak.

And even worse, that it's just you that is feeling this way.

It can seem like it's only us who are in this lonely little boat of sadness while so many other people are crushing it and living their best life.

I've often been so surprised when I've spoken to people one on one who - on the gram, look like they are absolutely loving the heck out of life and are in actual fact, struggling with their mental health, having feelings of self doubt, worry about money, judgement and a plethora of other things.

To combat all of this, the thing that we need to learn about toxic positivity is that feelings aren't good and bad they just ARE.

They just happen, normally as a part of our own internal compass - or sometimes as part of a defence mechanism to protect us in the present from stories we've told ourselves that are rooted in past experiences.

Supressing how you feel or forcing a smile doesn't get rid of those uncomfortable feelings, they just reappear else where.

I read a fantastic quote from Caroline Fenkel, Executive Director of Newport Academy a mental health treatment centre for Teens in the US, which I totally LOVE - "When you're busy numbing out, your feelings are in the other room doing push ups."

Things like smoking weed, drinking, eating past comfortable fullness, spending money etc is what comes to mind when we think of suppressing emotions - but actually working and keeping busy is another way to avoid your feelings.

I always used to hear stories of people going straight back to work after a traumatic event like the loss of a parent or partner. And I always felt really puzzled about it - how could you go back to work after something like that?

And then it clicked - it's the distraction.

It's why you hear of people 'throwing themselves into their work' when their lives are in turmoil. It feels comfortable to have control in one aspect of your life.

Distraction isn't necessarily bad, sometimes doing something to get your mind off of more stressful things is perfectly okay - it's when you are avoiding feelings altogether that the trouble starts.

Medical journals suggest that by suppressing your emotions they become more harmful and intense in the long run. In this medical journal, 180 women were split into groups and one group were asked to suppress their emotions during a sad film and the other group were asked to watch the same film with. The study concluded that the first group of women that supressed their behaviours during the sad film showed a physical change. They displayed an increased sympathetic activation of the cardiovascular system.

And what this actually means for us is that when your sympathetic nervous system is overactive this is when you can't sleep - have you ever had racing thoughts as soon as your head hits the pillow? The activation of the sympathetic nervous system may also suppress your immune system and increase blood pressure as well as an over all feeling of tiredness and exhaustion.

Sound familiar?

If you've suffered from Burnout that sounds just like this, could there be something that you're running away from? Maybe you're worried that once you start feeling your feelings you won't be able to stop?

I covered this in episode 5 (are you using work to avoid negative feelings) so go have a listen to that first, it can be hard so that's why I advise seeking out a therapist if you're worried that the feelings will take over.

So what else can we do?

Planning time to be sad can be a really effective way to overcome this. This sounds bizarre but by actively making time for and respecting sadness, anger, jealousy and other uncomfortable feelings we can actually help build more compassion for ourselves.

Sometimes it's actually good to feel sorry for ourselves, it teaches us to self soothe. It teaches us to have kindness and empathy for our own struggles and not invalidate our own feelings.

By honouring our uncomfortable feelings we can avoid them morphing into more malignant secondary emotions like shame and guilt.

During lockdown this was especially relevant with everyone seemingly starting a side hustle or a new lockdown hobby and the shame of seeing this alone, from your sofa in your living room feels so shameful when you're just trying to make it through the day.

So fight off the toxic positivity - put on something that makes you feel.

Watch the pixar film Coco, empathise with the struggles of the trans community in Pose or oh my god I don't know if you've seen that new Netflix show Squid Game, I won't give away any spoilers but its was... a lot for me. (I couldn't finish it!)

Write down your feelings in your journal, console yourself, mope, listen to sad music and process.

Be wary of social media, if you are having a sad day then actually I recommend staying away and start recognizing toxic positivity out in the wild and your reaction to it. Notice how it makes you feel, if it does bring up shame or guilt. Starting to question these things can release it's grip from you.

And be unapologetically sad without guilt or shame. You deserve it. This is all a part of it. You're doing great.

When you're ready to move on and carry on, mark the end of the time. Use incense, Palo Santo, a candle, an essential oil spray and imagine that you are metaphorically clearing the space and preparing it for you to move on. It can be nice to have a physical action to signify changes in mentality.

I'd love to hear how you get on with this, send me a DM at @sabhalo_ on instagram and don't forget to sign up to my newsletter for my FREE deep progressive muscle relaxation audio to put a halt to your racing thoughts and give yourself the gift of 15 minutes of bliss.

Take care!

Until next time,


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