Grace, 29, knows this feeling exactly. “At the beginning of lockdown, I was furloughed and had this overwhelming sense that I had to make the most of the time available to pursue all the hobbies and passions I’d never got around to before,” she says.
“I signed up to an online French language class, started a sticker business and became obsessed with re-organising my flat. Then I went back to work, and had all these new responsibilities and commitments that meant I never felt like I could relax. There was always more work to be done.”
We’ve been very busy since lockdown began. We’ve learnt languages, become our own hair colourists, revamped our entire homes, set up side-hustles, planted vegetable patches, and home schooled the kids. Yep, there’s no denying that Coronavirus has brought out everyone’s inner Beyonce, showing us exactly how much can be achieved in any given day by being the most productive we’ve ever been.
But after six (or is it seven?) months of this multi-hyphenate, high-functioning existence, it seems like many of us are having a bit of a hard time switching off. After a long day of over-achieving, we lay our heads down to rest but are plagued with the feeling that there’s more that needs to be done.
“It’s called toxic productivity,” explains expert nurse Emma Selby, clinical lead at health fitness brand Results Wellness Lifestyle. “It can be defined as an obsession with radical self improvement above all else. Ultimately, it’s an unachievable goal; no matter how productive you are, the result you are left with is a feeling of guilt for not having done ‘more’.”
As always, social media doesn’t help matters. “During lockdown, there was an influx of social media snapshots, meme moments and general pressure to be more or do more. It’s contributed to this emerging message that if we don’t come out of this pandemic as a zen master baker who can speak seven languages we have somehow failed.”
So, what are some of the signs that you might be suffering? “Some symptoms are working so hard or for so long that it is damaging to your relationships, health or just overall sense of wellbeing. There’s also a constant feeling of failing to do enough and general restlessness,” explains Emma.
“Restlessness is especially common when it is time to rest and you find yourself overwhelmed by thoughts that you should be doing something productive. This can really start to affect sleep.”
According to Emma, the best way to combat toxic productivity is to use harness and reclaim this newfound discipline. “Set a self-care routine and stick to it,” she says. “Set specific times aside to do something relaxing like a walk outside, a bath or even a tea break. You should be taking these mini self care breaks multiple times every day until they start to become second nature and relaxation becomes more natural.”