In today's fast-paced society, hustle culture is often associated with success and productivity. A busy schedule that has been defined by rigid routines, persistent deadlines, a mountain of duties, and that constant cup of coffee is usually displayed as a badge of honor. Or does it riskily prioritize production over mental health? Does this culture genuinely promote success?
The All-Consuming Schedule
Consider the following scenario: a friend asks if you're available for a casual get-together in your spare time. You quickly glance at your loaded agenda, which is filled with commitments and can only offer a few scattered hours, if any at all. The circumstance resonates with many people in today's hustle-driven society, when having a hectic schedule is frequently regarded as a badge of pride, meaning that a busy life equals success.
To journey reflects the goals of many others like him, taking inspiration from the life of a dedicated undergraduate student pursuing a degree in industrial engineering (B. To, personal communication, September 30, 2023). To aspired for improved physical vitality to manage the pressures of his education and career in his pursuit of academic and professional achievement.
In the beginning, To thought that having a very busy schedule showed how dedicated and determined he was. He believed that the more stuff he had on his calendar, the more successful he must be. However, beneath this seeming success, there was a less fancy reality. The constant stress To felt started to wear down his mental energy, leading to various effects on his mental and physical health. 'Now, stress is my lifelong companion,' To admitted. 'It's not solely about meeting my high standards; it's also about struggling to keep my eyes open during those lengthy lectures and meetings,' To said.
The ongoing stress from his crazy schedule started to show in different ways. To found it harder to concentrate on his schoolwork, even though he was dedicated. He didn't get enough sleep and was always juggling tasks, which left him mentally exhausted. This affected the quality of his work and his ability to remember things. It wasn't just about his grades; it also made him even more stressed as he tried to meet his high standards.
On the physical side, To’s health started to get worse. "I've honestly forgotten what it's like to have a regular dinner. Most of the time, it's grab-and-go food that I can eat with one hand while typing or racing against deadlines," To admitted, expressing his longing for a leisurely meal. His irregular eating habits, combined with the mental stress, began to show their effects, particularly on his immune system. "Sleep? It's become a distant dream. I used to love a good night's rest, but these days, I'm lucky if I can squeeze in a few hours. It's tough when your calendar doesn't have a 'sleep' slot," To remarked. The chronic lack of sleep further weakened his immune system, making him more susceptible to common illnesses.
With his mental energy constantly drained, To's mood started to go down. He became more easily annoyed and anxious, which strained his relationships with friends and family. His social life took a hit because he often had to turn down invitations due to his crazy schedule, and this made him feel lonely. As for his social life, To sighed, "I miss that. But turning down invitations has become a habit. I wish I had more time for friends and family. I can't remember the last time I had a day off. It's like a never-ending marathon, and I'm afraid to stop because I might fall behind."
Even though To had achieved a lot in school and work, his relentless pursuit of an overwhelmingly busy life had hurt his mental and physical health. The consequences of his super-busy schedule highlighted the problems that could come with living this way. It showed why it was important to have a more balanced approach that valued mental and physical health as much as being productive.
Burnout, Depression, and Therapist Conversations: The Long Task as a Life Target
As hustle culture persists, burnout and depression have become prevalent issues, casting a shadow over the lives of many individuals. The constant strain of keeping up with a demanding schedule takes a heavy toll on mental health. While a growing number of people acknowledge the importance of mental well-being, there exists a contradiction in their pursuit of balance.
For some people, therapy—intended to be a helpful step toward healing—becomes just another item to cross off their never-ending to-do list. Instead of addressing the root cause of their unbalanced lifestyles, these people immediately resume their demanding occupations and hectic schedules after therapy.
It's interesting to note how frequently the hustle culture narrative and the post-therapy mindset converge. People commonly leave treatment with their busy schedules intact and newfound motivation to accomplish even more. They continue to be severely affected by the social pressure to always be productive. As the ultimate goal, the pursuit of output is praised, which reflects a wider societal trend. People often leave therapy sessions feeling overburdened by their workloads and with the conviction that success comes from perseverance, hard work, and setting and achieving goals.
There are a number of reasons why productivity is still prioritized despite the negative effects. First of all, the cultural and societal narrative of success is largely focused on measurable achievements and professional milestones. Second, many worry that if they deviate from their set habits, it will be the end of their dreams. This paralyzing dread can cause people to reject change, even when it is obviously in their best interests. Furthermore, this way of thinking is still supported by hustling culture's subtle but persistent effects. The constant exposure to images of success gained by constant labor reinforces the deeply ingrained belief that busyness equals achievement. People struggle to break free of this never-ending cycle because they are concerned about being viewed as less ambitious or falling behind.
In other words, this pattern shows how deeply established hustling culture is and demands a major shift in societal norms. It emphasizes the pressing need to advocate for a more balanced view of success, one that values wellbeing and considers the risk that the pursuit of tireless productivity could have an immense impact on mental and emotional health. The idea that success and tiredness are intrinsically related needs to be dispelled. In a balanced blend of work and self-care, when mental health is regarded on track with professional accomplishment, it turns out that true achievement can be found.
( A never-ending cycle, similar to how a robotic system is set up.- Source: FreePik)
Expert Insights and Research
Virtanen et al. examined the connection between middle-aged workers' prolonged workweeks and the onset of depressive and anxious symptoms in their 2001, 2002- 2004 studies. This extensive study included 2,960 full-time employees from the Whitehall II cohort study of British public officials, which included 2,248 men and 712 women. They were 44 to 66 years old. The experiment, which was carried out over several years in the UK, produced interesting results.
According to the study, those who work more than 55 hours a week are 1.66 times more likely to have symptoms of depression and 1.74 times more likely to have anxiety symptoms than people who keep a regular 35–40 hour workweek. Particularly, compared to women who worked regular hours, women who worked more than 55 hours per week had a roughly threefold increased chance of developing depression and anxiety. The study concludes with strong evidence that working excessively long hours, particularly for women, considerably raises the chance of developing anxiety and depression. This underlines how crucial it is to address this problem and encourage a good work-life balance in order to protect mental health and general wellbeing. The study from the UK has implications worldwide and clarifies the common concern that working long hours significantly increases the chance of developing depression and anxiety symptoms, particularly in women.
Caffeine Culture: Struggling to Balance Energy and Well-Being
Let's now explore this phenomenon's cultural aspects in more detail. If you briefly glanced at your daily calendar, you probably noticed that coffee breaks were thoughtfully positioned in between work and meetings. Coffee has developed into much more than just a simple brew in many Western nations; it has also come to represent active engagement in the hustling culture. It is praised as a productivity booster and a crucial cure to keep people operating at full capacity. With coffee shops on almost every corner of the city, there is a strong coffee culture and a widespread notion that caffeine and productivity go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Asia, however, adopts a different perspective. Here, taking a nap, sometimes known as a "siesta," is considered as a legitimate strategy for recharging and enhancing mental wellness. Short naps are widely thought to significantly enhance cognitive function and overall psychological wellness, which has ingrained this habit throughout culture. In many cultural contexts, taking naps is considered as a crucial part of improving mental and emotional health and preserving homeostasis; it is not looked down upon or seen as a sign of indolence.
The contrast between these two cultural ideas on productivity and downtime reflects the wide range of opinions on health and work-life balance held by people all across the world. Asian cultures praise the restorative benefits of a small break during the day, while Western societies may place an emphasis on the energizing effects of caffeine and constant activity. These cultural variations are a reflection of different ideas about what constitutes happiness, productivity, and the importance of mental health.
( Source: FreePik)
Napping Culture: Accepting Temporary Solutions to Busyness
According to the study, afternoon naps improve how well we do tasks like math, reasoning, quick thinking, and recognizing symbols. They also make our memory better in different ways, like helping us remember facts, skills, and short-term stuff. Daytime naps also help us feel less stressed, less tired, in a better mood, more creative, and better at getting things done. They can even help folks who get really tired from working odd hours. Usually, the good effects of afternoon naps start showing up 30 to 120 minutes after you wake up. But the first 30 minutes after a nap can be a bit confusing and different, maybe because of something called "sleep inertia." When people wake up from a nap, they often feel drowsy, confused, and not very awake. Short naps (between 20 and 30 minutes) are less likely to make you feel like this. The length of your nap also matters. If you have lots of deep sleep during your nap, it can make you feel even sleepier when you wake up. So, having a shorter nap is better to avoid that. This study said that the timing of your nap matters. Napping in the early afternoon, around 1-5 p.m., is better because that's when your body feels naturally sleepy. But it's also important to know that your own body clock might be different, so listening to your own sleepiness is important. This study wanted to know if being a man or a woman, or being older or younger, changes how helpful naps are. But it turns out, in this study, it didn't really matter. But other research has said that women might get even better memory benefits from naps.
( Source: FreePik)
Napping Culture versus Caffeine Culture
In order to fully understand the intricate relationship between hustle culture and mental health, it is essential to look into how these occurrences are rooted in societal norms and beliefs.
The protestant work ethic has historically been important in the West, where hustle culture has its roots. The idea that self-control, discipline, and continual work were not just virtues but also prerequisites for salvation created a social environment that rewarded relentless labor. Over time, this way of thinking evolved into the hustle culture that is so pervasive today, when success and virtue are commonly equated with busyness.
Eastern cultures, on the other hand, frequently place a greater focus on balance, harmony, and overall wellness. Deeply ingrained in Eastern philosophies, practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have received significant attention for their beneficial effects on mental health. Another example of how this cultural difference manifests itself is in the acceptance of siestas or quick naps as a way to refresh. It reflects a more general notion that leisure time and rest are essential elements of a healthy lifestyle.
These cultural differences make it essential to understand that striving for productivity shouldn't come at the expense of one's mental and emotional health. Burnout, a state of emotional, physical, and mental tiredness, can result from the constant pursuit of success. Chronic exhaustion, irritability, and a decreased ability to handle stress are just a few of the ways it might appear.
Furthermore, the prevalence of burnout in hustle culture has resulted in a worrying rise in anxiety and depression. People's mental health frequently declines when they must continually meet deadlines and juggle several obligations. Stress spirals out of control as a result of constant worry about living up to expectations and the dread of failing.
(Burned out at work? Having a coffee cup nearby will help you stay in survival mode- Source: FreePik)
While seeking therapy is a helpful starting step in treating mental health difficulties, it's important to realize that treatment cannot resolve the underlying problems brought on by a culture that glorifies overwork. Even though treatment gives patients useful coping skills and tools, it is useless if the structural issues that cause mental health issues are not fixed. Changing the way people work and how society views productivity requires more than just acknowledging that there are mental health issues.
As a simple yet effective defense against the detrimental effects of continuous output, daytime naps are widely acknowledged as a legitimate means of refreshment in many Asian countries. Studies have found that taking quick naps improves mood, cognition, and alertness. Adopting such strategies can contribute to the development of a more psychologically sound workforce.
In conclusion, there is a significant paradox in contemporary society when hustle culture and mental health are contrasted. Although it is admirable to pursue productivity, mental health should not be sacrificed in the process. The disparity between Western and Eastern perspectives on labor and wellbeing from a cultural standpoint emphasizes the need for a more nuanced and comprehensive viewpoint. An approach to life and work that is healthier and more satisfying can be achieved by acknowledging the negative effects of unrelenting production on mental health and implementing structural adjustments to workplaces. The issue isn't which should take precedence—hustle culture or mental health—but rather how they may coexist peacefully in a society that values both achievement and self-care.
Virtanen, M., Ferrie, J. E., Singh-Manoux, A., Shipley, M. J., Stansfeld, S. A., Marmot, M. G., Ahola, K., Vahtera, J., & Kivimäki, M. (2011). Long working hours and symptoms of anxiety and depression: a 5-year follow-up of the Whitehall II study. Psychological medicine, 41(12), 2485–2494. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291711000171
Dutheil, F., Danini, B., Bagheri, R., Fantini, M. L., Pereira, B., Moustafa, F., Trousselard, M., & Navel, V. (2021). Effects of a Short Daytime Nap on the Cognitive Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(19), 10212. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph181910212
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