Avoiding toxicity in the age of #BeKind

Don’t let bad friendships or unfulfilling jobs get in the way of happiness. Here’s what to do when a real-life situation turns sour.

Culture

There’s been a lot of talk about ‘being kind’ recently. Whether it’s online or in the real world, the way we behave towards other people can have real impact on their wellbeing. But we also have a vital role to play in safeguarding our own mental health. While this can often be as straightforward as taking time for self-care, we also need to be conscious of when a life situation is making us unhappy. Because recognising when a relationship, job or social media habit has turned sour is the first step towards protecting ourselves from future misery. We speak to the experts to reveal how you can escape a real-life situation that’s turned toxic…

A friend is making you miserable

Whether it’s your BFF or a casual acquaintance, continuing a friendship with someone who makes you feel bad about yourself can be catastrophic for your mental health.

“Positive people lift you up – you bask in their respect and friendship and feel cared for, listened to and supported,” says Hannah Martin, founder of online community the Talented Ladies Club (talentedladiesclub.com). “Conversely, toxic people squash you down – they run roughshod over your feelings and ignore or diminish your wishes.”

If this sounds all too familiar, it is sometimes possible to rewire your thinking to feel better about yourself in their presence: “The first step is to recognise their toxic behaviours and understand they’re not personal to you,” Hannah explains. “Don’t internalise them and you can protect yourself from feeling hurt.” But when a friendship has become too damaging to sustain, the expert recommends cutting ties whenever possible. “If it’s a casual acquaintance this can be easily and quickly done,” she says.

“If it’s a close friend you may need to pull back more gradually." If you are unable to break away completely because you both belong to the same friendship group, Hannah advises minimising contact and asking someone you trust to be a mediator: "Don't get drawn into phone calls or texts. Explain why you may not participate in an event if the other person is there. Above all, recognise that this is their issue and not yours.”

You can't stand your job

There’s nothing worse than having to get out of bed every morning for a career you absolutely loath. According to success life coach Ryan Jackson (ryanjackson.org), the best way to determine if you’re stuck in a toxic job is to ask yourself the following: ‘Do I enjoy going to work? Does it give me a sense of fulfilment? Do I have positive relationships with colleagues?’ He says: “If your answer is no to any of the above then it is something that you need to address. You have a responsibility to yourself to ensure you’re happy in what you do.”

But before you start updating your Linkedin, it’s important to look within yourself to identify why you’re unhappy first. “If I were working with someone who felt dissatisfied, burnt out and lacking in joy for their job, I would always start by looking at their overall wellbeing,” says Adira Lifestyle founder Emily Wysock Wright. “We often get stuck in our own rut and it can take an external perspective to help us free ourselves from toxicity. You can objectively look at your situation and begin to brainstorm ways of selfdevelopment. Change must always start with ourselves.”

Social media is making you anxious

If scrolling through Instagram, Facebook or Twitter makes you feel inadequate or even anxious, the knock-on effects can be devastating, especially when it comes to your emotional wellbeing: “When any interaction makes us feel worse about ourselves it can lead to depression or trauma,” warns holistic therapist Dora De Almeida Prado (doroprado.com).

Red flags that your social media habit is damaging include missing out on human interaction because you're too engrossed in what's on your screen. You might also start to compare yourself to others and end up feeling like you’re not good enough.

If social media is affecting your life in a negative way and you’re giving it too much importance or time, remember that it’s a distorted and edited version of reality. Dora says: “My advice is to understand where the toxicity comes from and be around those who lift you up in an authentic way.” For this reason, the expert recommends analysing who you follow and what persona you’re trying to portray online. “Then get in touch with your most authentic self and see if they are aligned,” she says. “Stop giving your attention to those who don’t make you feel better because it won’t help you grow.”

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