Toxic positivity is the concept that no matter how difficult a situation, people should maintain a positive outlook.  The pandemic has ramped up our fears and our apprehension. Telling people to have “positive vibes,” while facing COVID-19 and lockdown, exacerbates one’s pain to the max.  Toxic positivity denies people’s emotions.  It makes one feel ashamed, and it makes one pile on the guilt, feeling unable to move on.

After my husband Peter died, many well-meaning friends said “Peter would want you to be happy,” or “You’ll find someone new, it will be great!”  This “good vibes only” approach called toxic positivity, meant I could not properly and thoroughly grieve with abandon.  It meant I had to maintain the artifice of positive emotions.  I heard these comments and felt it minimized and denied the massive sorrow I was experiencing.  Rather than being able to share the authentic emotions I was feeling, I was told to “always look on the bright side of life,” a favorite tune from the musical Spamalot, which was my ringtone on my phone.  I quickly switched to Avicii’s “Wake me Up When It’s All Over!”

When I hear people talking about all the positive undertakings they accomplished in lockdown, it makes me wonder if they are for real?  And when these individuals post the virtues of lockdown on their social media site, it is totally exasperating.  Sure, you can learn to bake sourdough bread; definitely, you can learn a new language; and, of course, you can cuddle with your loved ones.  A widow or widower can’t cuddle or nuzzle or feel loved.  She or he are alone and locked in their homes.  I can’t even concentrate on a book, let alone feel accomplished!  I just grieve for the life I had pre-pandemic.  And on top of all this stress, I sit at my computer trying to get a vaccination so I will be protected!

Positivity is certainly a great tool for getting through parts of grief.  But toxic positivity, this artificial “smile through your tears and sadness” attitude doesn’t work when you are scared out of your wits!  We can’t pretend everything is A-OK because it isn’t.  Life sucks right now!  By utilizing avoidance strategy, you simply push away all your emotions and let them fester inside which adds to your angst.

So how do we cope in this pandemic?  I find that writing about my fears helps me to navigate through the rough times.  I call my friends often, which helps ease my concerns.  I try not to be a cheerleader to friends who call with their own unease and fretfulness.  I listen to their tales of woe, and by validating their pain, I hope they will find some peace.  I know I have to take small steps forward.  Recognizing that we are all in this pandemic together somehow gives me a sense of communality and group solidarity which is moderately comforting. 

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Laurie is the author of the new book The Joke’s Over You Can Come Back Now: How This Widow Plowed Through Grief and Survived. She can be contacted via her website: or Facebook or Instagram

October 15, 2019, Los Angeles, CA – Cookbook author and television chef Laurie Burrows Grad, 75, sits down to a roasted chicken dinner in her Los Angeles home. Grad’s husband of 47 years, Peter Grad, died four years ago. To cope with her grief, Grad has written extensively about grief and grieving, and her new book, “The Joke’s Over, You Can Come Back Now,” navigates her first years of widowhood, and includes nine recipes with advice about cooking for one. (Sally Ryan for The New York Times)