There’s a lot to consider in this article. The basic idea is that a lot of the conventional mental health advice that we would offer for folks feeling anxious or depressed, just doesn’t cut it right now. In fact, it may be doing the opposite of helping:\. For example:
“Focusing on the positive.
“There is a time and place for this, but it’s essential to acknowledge the reality of your situation, the difficult feelings you feel, and respect that those feelings are there,” said Jessica Meister, a licensed clinical social worker with advanced clinical training in psychotherapy based in Los Angeles. “Then you can work from that starting point to begin healing and managing those challenging feelings and issues.”
Sometimes you simply can’t muster up gratitude and optimism, and that’s perfectly valid. In fact, pushing for a heavy focus on the bright side can be what experts call “toxic positivity,” which does more harm for your mental health than good.”
That’s just one section, but it’s the one that resonated with me, because it highlights that simply “thinking positively” is not addressing the reality of our situation.
For example, I’m not anxious JUST because my brain is working overtime, or because I find myself focusing on the negative. I’m also anxious because over 400,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19 and a large number of people in my local area feel no need to change their behavior in acknowledgement of that fact.
You know what that is? That is reality, and there’s no amount of “good vibes” that is going to make that reality not a reality. It’s totally normal to feel anxious about that, and telling me to “think positive”, or get more sleep, or exercise, isn’t going to change that.
We all live in a very uncertain, and difficult, reality right now. The answer to social injustice and racism, again, is not just thinking positively about it. It’s having difficult, often painful, conversations about the topic. It’s about listening to other people’s experiences and working hard to understand the world differently than we did yesterday.
That too, is a source of anxiety. Can we do this work? What will life look like? How does that change my place in the world, my relationships, etc.?
Again, those are valid concerns, not something we can think or exercise away. While we should always be about self-care, and working on our mental health, if we truly want to deal with the world, we are going to have to deal with these uncertainties that surround us right now. We are going to have to go ahead and do the work, even when it makes us anxious, maybe even panicked. The advice I would give, is to yes, still make time for any self-care you can get, exercise, eat well, connect with friends and family members, etc. In addition to that, though, make time to do the work, to feel the anxiety, to map your way forward from it.
The article below is a good place to start considering how we maintain some self-care, while not ignoring the realities we see every day.