Feeling Burnt Out? Meet Toxic Productivity & Grind Culture with Rest

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~Audre Lorde

When you hear the word “productive,” you likely think of something positive: busting through that work assignment, making your house sparkly clean, or crushing your hobby.

Productivity is what we all aim for, right? On workdays and even on our days off, we seek to make something happen.

Grinding and hustling are seen as admirable, and something to work toward, always.

If we fall short, we beat ourselves up, and sometimes even drag ourselves off the couch to force ourselves into productivity. We feel if we don’t complete all of the tasks, we’ve failed. We set crazy high expectations for ourselves then hate ourselves when we don’t meet them.

What would happen if we scaled back, even just a little? What if we included rest in our practice?

It seems we’d fall apart, we’d become piles of mush, not contributing to society or our own lives. This is bullsh*t. Toxic productivity grinds us down, not forward.

The need to be productive all the damn time impedes our ability to enjoy life and take a breather once in a while.

I’m not saying that all productivity and hustle are bad. I’m saying the culture around needing to be a robot of a human, producing 24/7, is what gets us into trouble.

I’m guilty of it myself. When I got my first big girl job out of college, I worked for a fancy tech start-up. I was amped to be given so much responsibility at age twenty-three, so I worked all the hours I could to prove I was capable.

The “work hard, play hard” culture was pushed at my job. After all, we had a ping pong table, avocados in our snack room, and bean bag chairs to nap on. Who needs an apartment when you’ve got everything at work?

That was my mindset. I grinded, early mornings and late nights, extra coffee and minimal sleep. It was almost cool to be working in the office on a Saturday.

I had a coworker who slept at the office multiple nights a week. We all thought she was crazy, but I wasn’t far off.

On top of all my work, I had a gazillion hobbies. I was running a blog, playing hockey, volunteering at my meditation center, attending twelve-step meetings, and trying to date.

The grind never ended. When did I rest? Never. Rest was for the wicked.

It all eventually caught up to me when, one dreary winter evening, I sat in my therapist’s office sobbing about how I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I had burned the candle at both ends for too long, and it had all become too much.

I was sent to a mental hospital, and my whole life came crashing down. I had been institutionalized for two whole weeks when I began to reconsider my life.

“Is this what I want for myself?” I thought. “Can I even keep going like this?”

The answer was no. My work and life patterns were not sustainable. I couldn’t keep “yes-ing” everything and everyone.

Something had to give. I was bursting at the seams, with no coping skills to tie me together again. With no choice, I had to give up my job and submit to my healing.

For a year, I didn’t work a full-time job. It was very unlike me. I was privileged to get on disability and was able to take the time to pick apart my life to find what wasn’t working.

What I found to be toxic was the grind, or the pursuit of always needing to be doing something. It ate away at me and my perfectionist tendencies, always wanting to be the best.

Instead, I embraced rest. I know I’m privileged in this because not everyone has the same chance to do such a thing. Some have no choice but to work forty-plus hours a week.

Still, even now, with a full-time job, in grad school, in a relationship, and with several hobbies, I carve out space for rest. I know how important it is to my overall well-being.

I do this by giving myself some space on a certain day of the week to just do nothing. I have full permission to kick back and do whatever I please: nap, read a book, watch tv, lay in the grass. The point is to not have to be productive for some time.

Not only do I give myself an entire day, I try to carve out moments all throughout the week where I can just take a deep breath and be. Whether that’s getting up for a stretch or walk from my work computer or cuddling with my roommate’s cat for a moment, I enjoy life.

Life isn’t just about how much I can produce. Being able to rest is essential to being the best human I can be and enjoying this short amount of time I have on Earth.

The way that I suggest to drop the grind culture and toxic productivity is to examine your life. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I pushing myself beyond my limits?
  • Do I have too much on my plate?
  • How am I beating myself up?
  • What can I prioritize?
  • Where can I include more rest?

Take a look at your life and see where you fall victim to toxic productivity. But don’t be overscrupulous! The point is to peek, not scour.

With this information, you can make informed choices that intentionally include rest. Rest is the way out of this mess. Sometimes my productive brain even tells me, “If you rest, you’ll be able to work harder!” Maybe, but that’s not the point.

The point is we need to recharge. There’s a reason why we sleep almost a third of our lives; we need the respite. Look at working out, one needs to rest in order to rebuild.

Our bodies are sending us cues left and right that it’s what we need to do, but we often don’t listen until it’s too late and our gauge is past empty.

You don’t need to wait until you’ve been hospitalized to rest. You can choose it today, in whatever increment makes sense for you. I promise it’s worth it.

About Ginelle Testa

Ginelle Testa is a passionate wordsmith. She's a queer gal whose passions include recovery/sobriety, social justice, body positivity, and intersectional feminism. In the rare moments she isn't writing, you can find her doing yin yoga, thrifting eclectic attire, and imperfectly practicing Buddhism. She has a memoir coming out with She Writes Press in September 2024. You can find her on Instagram.

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