Don't let your positivity turn toxic

How to Stay Positive at Work (Without Being Toxic)

In the last few years, we’ve all experienced a drastic change in how we treat work and responsibilities. Due to the devastating effects of the pandemic, it’s no wonder many people quit their jobs outright while others decided quiet quitting was more for them. This time of year always brings out feelings of gratitude—which is great on its own and valuable for bringing some happiness in the moment. But when “being grateful” and having “good vibes only” takes priority over anything else, it’s time to work on removing toxic positivity from your life.

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity is a relatively new term, but we all grew up being told to stay positive on the job, believing it will get you farther than paying attention to any upsets. Toxic positivity refers to the act of pushing down and ignoring every other emotion in an effort to remain positive. A common example most creatives will be able to identify with is knowing that you are burned out, but instead of resting, you tell yourself to perk up, find happiness in your tasks, and get it done anyway.

In addition to remaining toxically positive, you might throw in comparative phrases to convince you that you should smile through the pain. You might add on phrases to rationalize your decision, like “I should be grateful to have this job” or “If my coworker can do it, I should be able to and with a smile on my face.” These comparative phrases do nothing but add shame and guilt into the mix, causing additional stress. But we promise, there’s a better way to stay positive without the toxicity—by staying practical and actively affirming your situation instead.

So, how do you handle the tough stuff without allowing toxic positivity into the mix?

1. When something bad happens, feel it.

You bomb a presentation. You get passed over for the totally deserved promotion. You are laid off unexpectedly. In all of these times, no amount of “cheer up, Charlie” will change anything. The very first thing to do is accept and look at the situation for what it is and how it is making you feel. Next, see what aspects of this situation you do have control over—everything else, just let go. Acknowledge you might not feel happy for a while, but happiness isn’t helpful to chase anyway (since it’s so fleeting). What is helpful is facing the situation and reaching out to people you trust, like a therapist, until you can see a path forward. 

2. Take time each day to check your gut

Instead of just going full-force into the work you’re expected to deliver ASAP, pause daily to check in with your energy and feelings. What must get done today? How about this week? This month? Is there something personal going on that you need to take care of before you can lend your full mind to work? Be proactive about knowing how you’re feeling so you can be honest with how you can—or maybe can’t—deal right now. By tuning into yourself and not shutting down what comes up, you’ll next be able to figure out how to pace yourself, plan accordingly, and turn to someone for help if needed. The healthy, positive outcome? You know how you’re feeling (stressed, afraid) and that it’s okay. Plus, you might even develop a plan on how to get through it, step by step.

3. Be honest about what you're able to do - and what you're not.

Instead of plowing through work, getting stressed and resentful, stop and reevaluate everything on your plate. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are tons of valid things you can do about it:

  • ask for a later due date
  • ask for help on the project
  • talk to your manager or HR rep about where you’re at and what you’re feeling
  • take a sick day.

Then, follow through on what’s practical for you in this moment. If you fall behind, so what? Continue to be honest with your coworkers, reassess what’s possible, and do what you can. Strengthening your boundaries is super important, and leads to less resentment and positive outcomes for everyone involved.

4. Make sure to notice and reward yourself.

Sometimes we’re so busy hustling and staying positive no matter what that we might miss the actual everyday achievements we make along the way. For some, their latest achievement is returning to working in an office full-time without anxiety. For others, it might be a huge step to work up the courage to get back out there and start networking again. Achievements don’t just come as formal rewards from your company and, unless you’re still in school, it might feel like there are no measures of success in sight. But here’s the thing about knowing yourself better: you’ll know what’s difficult for you and what success feels like when you make it over that hurdle. Celebrate often and celebrate yourself, even for the little things like making a great morning coffee. 

TLDR; toxic positivity, as it turns out, does nothing but add stress and bury anxiety to rear its head for another day. Why would we want to push off what we can stare down today? Remember to feel the feels, check in with yourself often, rearrange your priorities, and reward yourself for even the smallest personal successes.

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