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Productivity Culture and Why We Are Getting “Burnout” in Our 20s

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

In recent years, the productivity culture among young people has become a growing yet worrying trend. The relentless pursuit of academic performance, early professional success, and constant presence on social media is pushing an entire generation to its limits. More and more young people report feeling the effects of burnout, a condition that until recently was mainly associated with adults in high-pressure work environments.

What is the productivity culture?

The productivity culture among young people is fueled by several factors. One of them is academic pressure. From an early age, students are encouraged to achieve excellence in their grades, participate in extracurricular activities, and prepare to enter prestigious universities. This pressure starts in elementary school and intensifies throughout their school years.

“Typical activities that I do in a week are attending college classes, internships, freelancing (including on Saturdays and Sundays, without a break), going to the gym about five times a week, reading, college work, recording for my portal, listening to podcasts, and going out with friends on weekends”, says Paola Costa, a 24-year-old who considers her week very busy.

She continues: “In general, I end up reducing sleep time or trying to do simultaneous activities, like freelancing while attending class, for example. Reading while doing cardio at the gym, or listening to podcasts on the way to college or while doing other activities”.

“It is relatively common for young adults to take on many tasks and assume various responsibilities. This behavior can be influenced by several psychological and social factors. Emotionally, examples include the search for an identity, exploring their capabilities, the need for approval and validation, ambitions, and independence”, explains psychologist Luana Bettini.

“Most young people are in a phase of identity formation and seek a sense of personal achievement through work and accomplishments. There is a strong desire to gain approval from peers, family, and superiors, which leads to the pursuit of high productivity levels. The fear of failure and not reaching set goals can be a significant motivator to maintain high productivity. Perfectionist tendencies, where young people set extremely high standards for themselves, drive an endless quest for efficiency and success”, concludes.

Another factor is the influence of social media. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn create an environment where success is frequently displayed and compared. Young people feel compelled to demonstrate constant productivity and success, creating an image of a perfect and successful life, which can be extremely exhausting. Paola agrees with this statement.

“I think the general feeling is that we all need to balance several ‘plates’ and we feel pressure from social media because there are people who seem to manage to do a hundred thousand things and have a super good, healthy, and balanced routine. Even though I know it’s not real, there is always a feeling that I can do more and should do more”, she says.

Luana adds: “Social media influences how individuals see the world. Social networks and the culture of constant comparison make young people feel the need to show achievements and successes, feeding the pressure to be constantly productive. Nowadays, technology allows young people to always be connected and accessible, facilitating multitasking and contributing to a culture of constant productivity. Technological tools that promise to improve productivity encourage young people to maximize their time and efforts, often generating high levels of stress and anxiety and great dissatisfaction/frustration when results differ from expectations”.

Burnout at an early age

It should be considered that society values and glorifies early success. Stories of young millionaire entrepreneurs and successful influencers increase the pressure for everyone to achieve extraordinary results quickly. Additionally, constant digital connection, while offering opportunities, also imposes incessant demands for attention and immediate response. The lack of clear boundaries between work and rest time contributes to mental exhaustion.

Many young people do not receive adequate education on how to manage stress and maintain a healthy balance between personal life and responsibilities. This leaves them vulnerable to burnout. For example, Paola says: “If I can accomplish everything, I feel satisfied. But generally, I always feel like something ismissing. So the general feeling is dissatisfaction. I try to balance it with an understanding of everything I have done, but it seems like the lack always ‘speaks louder’”. And this, in some cases, results in burnout.

Burnout, characterized by extreme exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of inefficacy, is becoming a reality for many young people. Studies show that the number of adolescents and young adults reporting burnout symptoms is significantly increasing. The reasons for this are multifaceted: the demand for exceptional performance in school and extracurricular activities creates an environment where failure is not an option. Young people feel they need to excel in everything, all the time.

Luana explains that the consequences of burnout can be physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive. Physical consequences may include extreme and persistent fatigue that does not improve with rest (chronic fatigue), insomnia or non-restorative sleep, and general health problems such as increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, muscle pain, and reduced immunity.

Frequent emotional consequences include discouragement, depression, anxiety, and irritability. Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, constant worries, nervousness, and tension are observed. Cognitively, there are difficulties in concentration, impaired memory, and difficulty making decisions and solving problems.

“In my practice, I treated a patient who had suffered burnout. A nurse, who, due to the high demand of tasks, low salary, and lack of recognition, spent 45 days in the ICU after a cardiac arrest triggered by burnout. After the ICU, the patient faced a depressive episode”, says the psychologist.

What to do?

The consequences of burnout in young people are serious and long-lasting. They can include mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, academic difficulties, impaired interpersonal relationships, and, in extreme cases, school or professional dropout.

To combat this trend, it is crucial for parents, educators, and society as a whole to promote a culture of balance and well-being. Some important measures should be taken to prevent the situation from becoming drastic.

By understanding and addressing the causes of burnout among young people, it is possible to create an environment where productivity does not come at the expense of health and well-being. It is essential to recognize that to be truly productive, rest and balance are fundamental components.

Bettini gives details on how to take care of the body and mind in an ultra-productive world: “To be productive while taking care of the body and mind, it is essential to adopt a balanced approach that incorporates healthy habits and effective time management strategies. The main thing is psychotherapy, talking about your processes and problems can be liberating; we must understand what we are feeling and the cause of the feeling or suffering. Do not hesitate to seek professional support to deal with stress and pressure”.

“Regular physical exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, hobbies, recreational activities, and socialization are fundamental aspects to maintain the balance of mind and body. Practices such as meditation and yoga are well received by patients. It is extremely important to manage time, which requires organization, knowing how to prioritize tasks, and taking regular breaks. Setting achievable goals and celebrating small victories can help counterbalance the feeling of insufficiency. Prioritizing these activities and strategies can help maintain good productivity while taking care of the body and mind, promoting a healthier and more balanced lifestyle”, she concludes.


This article was edited by Isadora Mangueira.

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Clarissa Palácio

Casper Libero '25

Paulistana nata, feminista, leonina e apaixonada por rosas, sou fotógrafa formada e escrevo desde os 7 anos de idade. Comecei com poesia, histórias de fantasia, depois música e, aos 13, descobri o jornalismo – aí não teve jeito, foi paixão à primeira vista. Já passei pelo Estadão, Uol, Repórter Brasil e, atualmente, Forbes. Quero poder escrever sobre tudo e deixar o mundo um pouquinho melhor para quem vem - e já está - por aí!