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Toxic Productivity Culture: A cultural trend defined as an obsession, or addiction, to being productive; results in one’s self-worth being measured by levels of productivity.

Toxic productivity culture was on the rise far before the pandemic turned our lives upside down. Yet when COVID-19 led to calls for extensive stay-at-home orders and long periods of social isolation, TPC found the perfect way to seep into our lives without us even noticing. 

If the past year has left you in a bout of burnout, where your passion for things you used to love is nowhere in sight and you worry you’re worthless if you’re not persistently productive, I have something that may save you. 

That something is the list below. A list of reasons you’ve likely found yourself obsessing over productivity during the pandemic. After seeing why you feel the way you do, whether that’s unhappy, exhausted, or a tragic combo of the two, you’ll be able to identify the habits that led to your unhappiness, hatch a plan to put them to a stop, and get one step closer to cutting ties with toxic productivity culture.

Being Robbed of Your Daily Routine

Entrepreneur holding cup of coffee while looking out window

Let’s start with the basics. From the time we’re children we’re taught the importance of having a routine. It starts in our youth with school days and extracurriculars until we blossom into adulthood where we establish a balance between our work schedule and social life that we stick to. When life changes come so do new routines, but one thing is for sure: there’s always some kind of schedule intact in our day-to-day lives.

Fast forward to 2020. The only parts of our routine that remain the same are brushing our teeth in the morning, showering at night, and doing it all over again. Your usual 12:30pm lunch break at the cafe down the street from your office is no longer and your Friday post-work social hour with coworkers is now on Zoom (and not nearly the same). It becomes nearly impossible to separate your work life from your home life as you attempt to make your living room into an office and, despite your attempts to craft some sort of stay-at-home schedule, it just isn’t the same.

Before you know it you find yourself sprawled on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerrys on a weekly basis. This is so unlike you… and before you know it, you start feeling terrible for not being nearly as productive and structured as you were before the pandemic.

Shortage of Social Gatherings

As I mentioned above, with stay-at-home orders comes saying sayonara to socializing, and you find yourself isolated from the outside world. Your friends feel miles away despite having FaceTime and you start missing even the smallest of interactions. Saying hello to coworkers you barely know and hearing the cacophony of laughter you only get when catching a rom-com at the movie theater are suddenly instances you wish you never took for granted.

This reality can have an incredible impact on your mental health, resulting in you feeling unmotivated, depressed, or empty. You can’t find it in yourself to work as hard as you did before the pandemic because it’s sometimes hard to get out of bed. You’re struggling to be passionate about anything. The result? You feel terrible for not getting as much done as you want to. 

Or, maybe you’re like me. You’re an extravert who has never felt this alone. To distract yourself you filled your schedule with as much work to do and as many Zoom events and FaceTime dates as you could. You were fine the first few months in quarantine but now, after being glued to a screen for what feels like an eternity, you’ve never been this burnt out before.

Massive Pressures from Social Media

Entrepreneur scrolling through social media on phone while sitting on couch

Remember those nights on the couch with Ben & Jerry’s I was talking about? You’d likely be lying if you said they aren’t paired with a scroll through Instagram or TikTok. Maybe you don’t spend hours on social media, but chances are you’re on it much more now that there’s less to do with your freetime. 

This is when the self-comparison starts. You see friends picking up new hobbies left and right, some are getting engaged and announcing pregnancies, others are getting into the best shape of their life. When constantly exposed to people showing only the highlights of their lives, you can’t help but compare your own life to theirs. 

Why aren’t you learning how to bake bread or writing that book you’ve always said you would when you have the time? Why aren’t you waking up at 6am to run every morning like so many of your Facebook friends are? You know people present the perfect version of themselves on social media, but you can’t help but feel bad about yourself for not being as productive as those on your feed.

Heightened Risk of High-Functioning Depression

Many people, especially those who have never struggled with mental health before, automatically ruled out having depression when they began to grapple with thoughts of hopelessness, dread, or deep unhappiness during the pandemic. Social stigma often tells us that if you’re getting your work done, maintaining relationships, or sticking to a workout routine, that you can’t be suffering from depression. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

Maybe you’ve been exerting all of your energy into being productive while internally experiencing a stream of dark thoughts or feelings leading to you feeling burnt out. If this is the case, you may not just be experiencing side effects of toxic productivity culture. You could be fighting a battle you don’t have to fight by yourself. 

Though high-functioning depression is not a clinical diagnosis, it’s a term used to characterize someone who appears to be fine on the outside, but is secretly struggling with depression on the inside. The person can become so skilled at masking their depression that they even convince themselves that nothing is wrong. 

If this sounds familiar, please don’t be afraid to speak up. When living in a world where we’re facing a lack of social interaction, isolating ourselves is the last thing we should do.

What are your thoughts on the causes of Toxic Productivity Culture? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.