Are you constantly on the go? Do you devote 110% of yourself towards your work or other responsibilities? Do you feel guilty for putting your feet up, taking a day off, or even taking a nap? Is your mantra “I’ll rest when I’m dead?”
If you answered “Yes” (or even a firm “Maybe”), you are part of the hustle culture, also known as “Burnout Culture,” “Toxic Productivity,” or “Workaholism.” “Hustle culture is this mindset that we have to work hard to be considered productive and exemplary, and that if we don’t, we are useless and worthless,” explains yoga and mindfulness facilitator, educator, and licensed psychologist Ria Tirazona.
While working hard is important, the hustle culture practice takes it to another level. “Working hard means you devote your time and energy to something that’s important to you, but you’re still able to take care of yourself,” Ria points out. “On the other hand, hustle culture is telling yourself ‘I’ll rest when I’m dead.’”
“Rest is not the enemy, and slowing down is not wrong. You need to change the attitude that not producing any output means we are not worthy. Hustle culture can be changed, and the change has to start with you.”Ria Tirazona, Psychologist and Mindfulness Facilitator
Who is impacted
Hustle culture is not just practiced by executives and employees; students are branded “mediocre” or “lazy” when they do not pull all-nighters, while stay-at-home parents are shamed for everything from not preparing Instagram-worthy food to raising paragons.
Even worse, we are oftentimes our own worst judges. “As a teacher, I constantly feel the need to study more, to take another course, to get another certificate,” Risa shares. “Before, I did it as part of continuing my education to improve my skills; but now it’s like I need to collect more proof that I am competent.”
“We have become consumed by this need to have more, to produce more, to be more. And if we choose to do the opposite, which is taking it slow or easy, we are negatively judged,” she adds.
How it came about
The rise of hustle culture can be attributed to advances in technology — everything is so accessible now that the line between yourself and your job has blurred. “Before the advent of email and instant messaging, we had to wait until the next day to get the memo for the tasks that needed to be done. Now, we get emails at two o’ clock in the morning,” Ria points out.
Ironically, while the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified hustle culture, it has also shed light on its negative effects.
“On one hand, because the lines between work and home are blurred, companies expect that employees can produce more output because they’re ‘just at home,’” Ria explains. “And if you’re an employee in a company that’s struggling to make it, of course you’re going to hustle to keep your job.”
But to some degree, the lockdowns have also caused people to start becoming more aware of the negative effects of hustle culture — burnout, stress, anxiety, and poor physical health. “Because life is harder now, there is a growing number of people who are starting to say ‘No, I can’t do this,’” Ria shares. “More and more groups now are also highlighting the importance of mental health and well-being, which was not really talked about pre-pandemic.”
How to cancel hustle culture
If you want to stop toxic productivity and take care of yourself better, here are some things you can do:
- Ask yourself — “What is my ‘rest narrative?’” “If your mindset towards rest is that it’s bad and it’s laziness, then you will continue to overwork because you don’t want to be called ‘bad’ or ‘lazy,’” Ria says. “But if you believe that rest is a healthy way for you to care for your well-being and a space to connect with what is important, then your attitude will change.”
- The second question to ask yourself — “Is hustling really worth it?” Refusing to hustle when everyone else in your organization is doing it can be scary — it can cost you goodwill with team members, a promotion, or even your job. “But as much as we want to go with the flow, there’s also a lot of value in going against the flow,” Ria advises. “You cannot keep going with a system that will cost you your physical and mental health, your relationships with loved ones, or even your life. So maybe it’s time you stand up for what’s important to you — money, prestige, or your health?”
- Set and enforce boundaries. France recently passed a law making it illegal to send work messages after office hours. If you live in a country that does not have this law, take it upon yourself to decide when to stop working, and don’t be afraid to communicate this to others. “We also have to give people the benefit of the doubt — sometimes they’re not even aware that they are causing you to overwork,” Ria explains. “So we need to take it upon ourselves to advocate for change.”
A tactful way would be to reply to an after-work email with “Thank you for this email, I’ll respond to it in the morning/on Monday.” After a few times, your colleagues will know not to do it again.
However, do know that not everything you ask for will be granted. There will be times when you will need to work longer or harder — to meet a deadline or take care of a work emergency, for example — so you should also be flexible when needed. Just be sure these are exceptions, and not the norm.
- Make rest and self-care a lifestyle. “Rest should be a part of your everyday experience, not a special occasion,” Ria says. “So don’t wait until you’re sick or burned out to rest, which is what the hustle culture emphasizes. Slowing down is good because in that little place of pause, you actually become more productive because you’ve cleared the clutter from your mind.”
- Specifically, take a nap. If there is one thing that Ria advises people who want to stop overworking, it’s to take an afternoon snooze. “Naps have been proven to boost brain health, reduce fatigue, and improve our well-being,” she says.
- Know your “flow.” Note that resting is not the same as being unwilling to push yourself further. “We all want to be the best versions of ourselves; but part of that is knowing our capacities and when we’re starting to lose that capacity,” Ria explains.
Psychologists call this the “flow,” a state of mind in which you become fully immersed in an activity, your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost. It is also a dynamic and ever-changing state. “Sometimes you’re at your peak and you’re challenged, other times you need to recover,” she says. “So go ahead and challenge yourself, but be aware of signs when you need to take a break.”
- Follow the rhythms of nature. “Two forces exist in the universe. Yin is a passive, negative force, while yang is an active, positive force,” Ria teaches. “And these forces exist everywhere in the world, even inside us. So there will be times when we are more active, which is yang; and there will also be times when we need to slow down, which is yin.” Both need to be balanced so we achieve better well-being.
Another way to look at our energy is to compare it to the cycles of the moon. “You can be at a phase when you’re creating something new, when you’re working hard, and you’re producing a lot,” she says. “But there’s also that phase of emptying out and recovering, so that you have something to draw from again.”
“Rest is not the enemy, and slowing down is not wrong,” Ria concludes. “You need to change the attitude that not producing any output means we are not worthy. Hustle culture can be changed, and the change has to start with you.”
If you are experiencing burnout, stress, or anxiety as a result of hustle culture, MindNation’s psychologists and WellBeing Coaches are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions. Book a session now https://bit.ly/mn-chat.
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