A crippling fear of failure and a relentless desire to please sound familiar? We have our society to thank for that one. Before I start laying out a recovery plan for those suffering from toxic productivity culture like I was, I felt I needed to tell you a little bit about why I’m doing this in the first place.

My Experience with Toxic Productivity

Last year I was a college student taking seven Zoom classes, a writer remotely working for two publications, and a tangled mess of stress and sadness that was finally realizing her “there’s no such thing as having too much on my plate,” mentality was making her hair fall out (literally, I still have a tiny bald spot).

Yet, in some sick, twisted way, I loved it. 

Knowing that people were counting on me, that I was never wasting a second of my day (where working from 7am to midnight was the norm), and that people were impressed with my ability to handle my workload made me feel more valued than I ever had before. The downside? I was so wildly unhappy.

The worst part is how long it took me to realize it. Because I was investing every ounce of my energy into my work, I didn’t have time to stop and assess how I was feeling. My thoughts were racing at a hundred miles a minute and yet not a single one was dedicated to checking in on my mental health. I woke up filled with anxiety facing my treacherous to-do list and by the time my head hit the pillow I was numb, dreading having to do the process all over again.

Knowing When to Make a Change

Entrepreneur standing alone on beach
Entrepreneur standing alone on beach

I vividly remember the morning I knew it had to stop. Staring at a computer screen with strained eyes and a pounding headache at 4am, I took a sip of stale coffee and, out of nowhere, began to sob. All the feelings I had pushed into the back of my mind filed under “worry about later,” had fought their way to the surface and I realized all I had sacrificed while worshipping my work.

When was the last time I FaceTimed my best friend? The last time I called my mom without her having to ask in advance like she was booking an appointment? The last time I went to the beach without bringing a stack of papers or my laptop? I couldn’t remember.

It was around this time I hopped online to see how I could kick the harmful habits I had incorporated into my life. How could I rest without obsessively worrying about the work that was waiting for me? How could I mend my relationships after seemingly dropping off the face of the Earth to my friends? Well, Google was there to inform me that I, like many millennials and Gen Zers, had fallen victim to toxic productivity culture. 

After investigating what this whole “Toxic Productivity” trend was, I recognized a variety of signs that showed I’d fallen victim to TPC. Subconscious self-comparison due to social media. Inability to balance work and play in the midst of a pandemic. A lack of confidence leading to me depending on work to feel I had worth. Talk about a Google search slapping you in the face.

Taking a Stance

However, here’s the thing. Search after search was telling me what toxic productivity was, but nothing was telling me how I could kick it. My laptop screen left me concluding that toxic productivity culture is a societal trend that we can’t control and are going to keep falling victim to as long as we keep living as we do. 

Yeah, no. This was not going to work for me. You’re telling me this societal “trend” that’s making people feel worthless if they’re not over-worked, that encourages prioritizing work over loved ones, and that’s going to lead to a life of stress, anxiety, and sleepless nights is just something we’re going to have to live with? 

Not to mention the fact that we’re already living through a global pandemic that is causing 2 in 3 adults to report experiencing a sharp increase in stress according to the American Psychological Association.

So, I took matters into my own hands. I did my research, studied current trends, sought advice from professionals, talked with fellow victims of toxic productivity culture, and compiled a variety of topics to talk about with all of you. Topics that I wish would’ve come up in my Google search when I desperately needed to know how I could get my happiness back. If I can help one person rediscover the happiness I was searching for, it’ll all be worth it. 

Next week we’re kicking off canceling toxic productivity culture by discussing why it became so prevalent during the pandemic, and how we can fight against it while many of us are still working from home and social distancing (we all should be doing that one). Hope to see you back soon.

Do you have any experiences with Toxic Productivity Culture? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.