THE PRODUCTIVITY PARADOX: The Burnout Badge of Honour & Why Hustle Culture is Poisonous.

There’s always just one more e-mail to send, but overworking and overcommitting is the most socially acceptable form of self-harm. 

Endless studies have proven that consistently studying for long periods of time can elevate depression and anxiety, so why do we continue to glamorize our so-called hustle culture? 

I’ve been experiencing burnouts since I was 14-years old. I was once walking to high-school, about to sit a Biology mock exam that I’d studied all week for, when I started to feel like my chest was about to implode. My sight and hearing became hazy, my breathing rapid, and even though I could barely stand, my focus remained on the exam I was about to take. This was my first panic attack, at the age of 14, triggered because of the pressures of hustle culture and academic perfection. 

I continued to experience panic attacks throughout high-school and college, once leading to an ambulance being called before my GCSEs began. While I have since managed my anxiety and learned to recognise the toxicity of overworking, the pattern of behaviour that caused this is unfortunately still very much something I practice at the age of 22. 

Admittedly, I’ve battled with the reality of hustle culture throughout the entirety of my degree. I think it stems from imposter syndrome, feeling obligated to say ‘yes’ to everything, and just a constant need to ‘prove my worth’ and place on my degree, but also in society. We’re conditioned to wear our always-working mentality as a badge of honour, but the reality of chronic stress can become quite counter-productive and damaging to our mental-wellbeing. 

While panic and anxiety attacks are not always a direct consequence of overworking, hustle culture remains responsible for troubling mental health amongst young people. How many times have you heard the term ‘burnout’ recently? Or worse, experienced it? The harsh truth of constantly striving for perfection, and the immense pressures of getting on that grind 24/7 in order to feel and be seen as ‘successful’ is extremely toxic

Experiencing a burnout isn’t pretty. It isn’t fooling yourself into success by lighting a bunch of candles and sipping on your iced coffee as you’re on the verge of a breakdown. It can actually look a lot like;

  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of sleep / disrupted sleeping pattern / insomnia 
  • Forgetfulness (something I dismissed as a myth until I began to experience it myself)
  • Inability to concentrate 
  • Social withdrawal / detachment from people
  • Feeling guilty for taking some time out
  • Lack of interest or motivation to engage in pleasurable activities
  • Feelings of irritability / emotional outbursts (I’m sorry, Mum)

The mentality that we’re only entitled to rest once we’ve completed our overwhelming to-do lists is self-destructive. It’s time to destroy the idea that you have to be constantly grinding to be successful, and to instead embrace the concept of recovery, rest, and reflection. It’s something that’s infiltrated through social media on a daily basis to the point that many of us would stumble when being asked to identify parts of ourselves that don’t revolve around ‘the grind’. Sure, we’re at an age when our academic studies and building a career is prioritised. But what we have failed to acknowledge is that setting healthy boundaries that promote a balanced lifestyle is crucial if we’re ever going to achieve anything.

I’m writing this article the morning after I came to the realisation that I am in fact experiencing a burnout. Eleven consecutive weeks of online third-year university just isn’t the one. So, after I yelled abuse at my laptop and cried to my mum, I decided to get some well-earned and well-overdue rest. 

Conforming to hustle culture and idolising survival mode needs to end. The absence of a good diet, sleep, exercise, socialising, and relaxation ISN’T something to be applauded. I think we often need reminding that the world isn’t going to implode simply because you took a day off. 

Connect with yourself without chasing productivity. You are enough, even when you aren’t busy.