Do you feel pressured to be positive all the time? Does scrolling through social media leave you feeling empty — like everyone else is fitter, happier and more successful? 

This is an incredibly relatable feeling for many people, and it’s one that can affect our lives subtly and overtly, making it tough to look after our mental and physical health 

Personal trainer and fitness manager Kim Jory, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, understands the feeling. She’s fascinated by what she calls 'the marriage' between physical fitness and mental health.  

“You can’t have one without the other,” says Jory. “The biopsychosocial approach [to fitness and training] looks at a whole person,” including their physical environment, relationships and stressors in life.  

How fitness ties into mental health 

Jory says there are numerous studies supporting the benefits of exercise for our brain, including that working out releases certain endorphins while stimulating neurotransmitters that make us feel good.  

“Which makes sense, because we’re human beings, we were born to move. We weren’t born to be stagnant and not use our bodies.” 

Think of an activity where you’re just using your body and not your brain. Can you? Probably not. 

“We are so connected in so many ways, Jory says 

Healthy positivity vs. toxic positivity  

When does healthy positivity start to edge into the territory of toxic positivity? Where do we draw the line? 

“I’m probably a bit of a recovering toxic positive person,” says Jory. “If I look at myself from maybe a decade ago, I might have been a bit too positive all the time, and it wasn’t always productive.” 

Jory says the lines begin to blur into toxic positivity when someone is in denial, and can’t acknowledge the authentic human experience. They use positivity to mask their real  emotions. 

‘If you’re driving your car, and your gas gauge is on empty, you can put a little happy face sticker on it, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to run out of gas,” says Jory.  

A good sign your positivity is toxic is when you start repressing emotions

“If you find yourself being dismissive of other people, or not really listening or being empathetic of their situation.” 

It may be tempting to feel like you need to present a solution when others come to you with their problems or else pacify them with phrases like “Everything will be fine.”  

Jory advises to instead bite back optimism or advice (unless, of course, they’re asking you for it). Instead, try reflective listening, empathy and compassion, while leaving space for them to feel what they feel.  

Toxic positivity and poor mental health 

Toxic positivity, whether it's on purpose or happens automatically, can impact your mental health over time.  

“If you deny your feelings or are not willing to feel genuine emotions, that just gets stuffed down and then eventually, something happens. Maybe you just explode or implode: The repercussions are a lot bigger.”  

Jory says no one can go on forever without experiencing and expressing emotions. 

“Emotions are normal, but if we override them they build up and eventually come out in less productive ways.” 

Recognizing toxic positivity, and what to do instead 

How do your know if your positivity is actually toxic? Tune in to your emotions 

Jory says your positivity could be false if you feel a knot in your stomach, or like your chest is tight. 

“Our bodies give us signs of what’s really going on. It's important to tune in to how we're feeling to notice when things aren't right." 

Instead of overriding our emotions with toxic positivity, Jory suggests other outlets like a walk or run, disconnecting from social media and talking over what we’re feeling with trusted friends or family.  

“Especially within the last year, whatever we’re feeling is valid. And that’s okay.”