Not All Positivity Is Created Equal

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by Karen Del Vecchio |

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Several years ago I learned an important distinction about positivity. For a long time, I had thought that positivity meant ignoring what was upsetting or not going right so that you could “pretend” to be happy. I had always thought that was somewhat ridiculous, because pretending that the negatives don’t exist doesn’t make life any better.

Then, I had a lightbulb moment while talking to a friend. I realized that positivity isn’t about ignoring the tough parts of life. It’s about recognizing and working on them, and simultaneously focusing on the positive where possible.

This idea, known as realistic positivity, was a real game changer for me. Last week, I really leaned into it. It was just one of those crappy, long weeks when each day you think, Is it the weekend yet? Before I understood realistic positivity, the weight of various stressors and extra work on my plate would have affected my mental state significantly. That in turn can affect my pain levels, leading to a bit of a snowball effect that can make my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome much harder to manage.

So, how does this work, exactly? I’ll use some of my work stress as an example. As both a teacher and a college counselor who works with students on their post-graduation plans, the end of April through May tends to be hectic.

Students are anxious about finishing their classes strong, seniors are trying to finalize their plans for next year, and as an administration, we’re trying to plan senior events and graduation. This year, we get the added stress and difficulty of trying to manage local pandemic protocols while also giving seniors as normal an experience as possible under the circumstances. There’s just a lot going on and a lot of pressure all around.

I practice realistic positivity by acknowledging each challenge and finding an upside to focus on. While I can’t control what other teachers do, in my class I can make sure that my students know about projects, assignments, and major deadlines well in advance so that they can plan ahead. This helps them manage their stress, and that’s important to me as an educator.

From my end, I also can remember that I’m off my teaching rotation for two weeks (we’re on a wonky schedule because of the pandemic), which gives me time to catch up. So, we all just need to push through a few more days.

Seniors are also trying to finalize their plans for next year, and they often stop by for advice. I love helping students talk through their options and see their joy when they decide on their next step. And while this year’s events won’t be normal, I’m excited that the seniors at least get to have some semblance of traditional senior activities, as last year’s graduating class didn’t have any of them.

See what I mean? Realistic positivity isn’t about ignoring your problems or stressors. It’s about finding ways to ameliorate what we can, recognizing and managing what we can’t, and choosing to focus on the good we can find. As someone whose stress, anxiety, and exhaustion are strongly connected, this mindset shift has been amazing for me. It’s not always easy, but both my mind and my body are better for it.

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Note: Ehlers-Danlos News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ehlers-Danlos News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Ehlers-Danlos.