TORONTO -- It can be tempting to tell our family and friends who are feeling down to just "be positive" and "look on the bright side." However, one expert says that these phrases could actually do more harm to their mental health.

Toronto-based psychotherapist Sarah Ahmed says such phrases are part of "toxic positivity," which is defined as the belief that people should maintain a positive mindset no matter how difficult a situation is.

"What it does is it actually invalidates and minimizes the range of emotions that human beings, very naturally, experience," Ahmed told CTV's Your Morning on Monday.

Ahmed says toxic positivity can be a way to avoid dealing with the range of negative emotions that come from a distressing event, which can lead to further negative mental health effects.

"When you're avoiding your emotions, you're actually causing more harm and this harm can show up physically for many of us in the in the way of hypertension, headaches, chronic pain, increased stress, of course, and also a greater risk of mortality," she said.

It can be difficult to avoid toxic positivity. On Instagram, for example, hashtags such as #goodvibesonly and #staypositive have tens of millions of posts. Ahmed says brands have also tried to capitalize on toxic positivity as well, given that these hashtags and phrases often get printed on products.

"The way it's marketed is that it makes us believe and feel as though gaining these products or purchasing these products will somehow help us on our journey to happiness. And that's why it's so popular," Ahmed explained.

Ahmed says there are things we can do to avoid having a toxically positive mindset. She suggests journaling in order to better process feelings, as well as being mindful of the kind of social media content that we consume.

"I think it's safe to say acknowledge and address that we don't always have to be positive about everything," she said. "Some situations are distressful, so (be) very honest with yourself in a very compassionate manner."


"Look on the bright side" and "be positive."

These are some of the most common toxic phrases that get thrown around. Instead, Ahmed suggests saying, "I'm here to support you in ways that you need."

"Everything happens for a reason."

"It's one we hear very often and I'm also guilty of it and I remember hearing as well growing up," said Ahmed.

As an alternative, Ahmed suggests saying "Sometimes, things happen to us and they're very difficult and we can't really make sense of them. And it just sucks and that's okay."