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Toxic Productivity's Impact on Our Health: Shame, Perfectionism, Guilt, and Anxiety

Updated: May 17, 2023

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Toxic productivity is a phenomenon that has become increasingly prevalent in our society. It is the belief that we constantly need to be productive and achieve more, even if it means sacrificing our well-being, health, and relationships. This mindset can lead to feelings of shame, perfectionism, guilt, and anxiety, all of which can have a negative impact on our mental and physical health.

In our fast-paced, highly competitive world, we are often encouraged to measure our worth by our productivity and achievements. We are bombarded with messages telling us to work harder, faster, and longer hours to succeed. However, this mentality can be harmful, as it creates unrealistic expectations and leads to burnout, stress, and exhaustion.

Many people who struggle with toxic productivity may feel like they are never doing enough, no matter how much they achieve. They may feel guilty for taking breaks or spending time on self-care, and may prioritise work over their personal relationships and hobbies. This can lead to a lack of work-life balance, which can ultimately impact our overall well-being and happiness.

In this blog, I delve into the emotional toll of toxic productivity and explore how it shows up in our lives. By understanding the negative impact of toxic productivity and developing healthy habits, we can create a more fulfilling and balanced life.

Toxic productivity shows its face in these ways:

1. Productivity shame

The need to be constantly "doing" can become toxic and is not an effective and productive way to live. In fact it's a destructive behaviour that stops you being mindful, happy and satisfied with your life. We land up bullying ourselves via our own self talk and exacerbating an already unhealthy dynamic.

2. Fear of failure

The idea that we must work ourselves up the corporate ladder and that as young employees, we want to be seen as keen and proactive, sees many people at the start of their careers taking on far more than they can manage and then fearing they'll be seen as incompetent if they drop any balls, obliterating their idea of career success. We fear being seen as lazy, especially if we leave the office while there is still sunlight outside. Who's never been met with the snarky comment, "Hmm, I see you're working half day", as you're about to leave the office for home or to fetch your kids from school.

3. Productivity guilt

We see the idea that if something is not focused towards growth and work then it becomes a waste of time. This sees people never really enjoying the moment of the simplest things in life and mindfulness goes out the window.

People feel guilty for taking breaks or be seen to be slacking off. They forego vacations and sick days off, making sure they're showing up all the time so they can stop any rumours about their "lack of productivity".

Mostly, what suffers the most is their sleep. Sleep is seen as a luxury and something to be accommodated into the schedule when everything else has been done. The thing with sleep disruption is that it unleashes a chemical and hormonal storm within us that ultimately affects our productivity.

4. Constant dissatisfaction

People in the toxic productivity trap are also never satisfied with what they've produced, believing it's not good enough or they could've done things better. This is accompanied by guilt and discontent.

"Toxic productivity is “the evil love child” of workaholism and overachieving and this behaviour is rooted in a toxic work culture-at-large". Erika Ferszt, Founder of Moodally

5. Off the charts anxiety

You know the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed by everyone wanting a piece of you. Women, feel this anxiety more acutely because of the demands of running a home and having kids. As much as we want to tell ourselves that there is gender equality, being a mother and woman in today's working world is no joke.

6. Perfectionism

Perfectionism is anxiety's special wingman - a toxic combination that sees us striving for ever more ethereal heights of perfection that really are mostly self imposed and unachievable, resulting in the cycle into anxiety continuing. It's a no-win situation. It also becomes the biggest cause of procrastination and time wasting - completely counter productivity.

7. Imposter Syndrome

People are fearful they will be discovered at any moment for the fraud they thing they are. While juggling so much and trying to relentlessly live up to other people's expectations, we've become fearful that we don't know enough, can't do anything and that people are just waiting to expose our inabilities and show up our incompetencies.

8. Low self esteem

When self worth starts to look like amount of hours worked or emails sent or revenue generated for the company, it's seriously time to re-evaluate things. When work becomes more important than sleep, exercise and eating, we see how this could result in not feeling our best. We might pick up weight or look like we've visibly aged, which don't help how good we feel about ourselves.

9. Low functioning depression

The signs of toxic productivity can also show that you might be battling with high-functioning depression. This means that you're masking your feelings of low self-worth or sadness but now coupled with decreasing energy all the while putting all of your energy into your goals and work. This is a dangerous dance.

10. A trauma response

Trauma is defined as an event or a series of events that has caused "a lot of stress". To cope with the effects of the trauma, we tend to look for ways to avoid or detach from it by using drugs, alcohol or food.

Some people use being busy as a way of coping or distracting themselves. Keeping busy is a way to stop the noise in our heads or give us something else to focus on and we don't want to deal with the feelings associated with the trauma. This is completely understandable. But if it's being used as a crutch or an "addiction", it may be time to find someone to talk to about this.

The always-on, constant state of busyness

The cultural idea that we must constantly be busy is something that shapes our identity as a person. When I work with my clients, I see some of them flinch when I ask them to give up tasks that are no longer serving them. They fear they'll be seen as lazy or even useless. These beliefs are deeply rooted in the culture of busyness.

It's easy to see how all these negative aspects mentioned create a spiral down which many fall, where they question their worth and their competence. These are serious mental health crises which need professional support. This is where it's advisable to consult a mental health therapist or productivity coach.

Get help for your toxic productivity tendencies

If you're struggling with the effects of toxic productivity, why not set up a call with me to discuss your specific situation? This no-obligation call can help you get clear on why you might be falling into some of these patterns of behaviour and how you could work to overcome them. Book your free 30-minute call here.

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