Toxic Productivity or High-Functioning Depression? 4 Signs to Watch For

With the abundance of social media posts about completing DIY projects, starting new hobbies, or learning new recipes during COVID-19, many of us are facing pressure to use the extra time on our hands to be productive. With unemployment stemming from the COVID-19 crisis, many people feel the need to be model employees despite unprecedented stress and change.

Excessive expectations of productivity can have negative outcomes for mental health, whether we’re pushing ourselves to work longer or feeling like we can’t use free time to relax. Such behavior, known as toxic productivity, can be a sign that you’re struggling with high-functioning depression by masking your feelings of sadness, decreased energy, guilt, or low self-worth by putting all your energy into your job or goal oriented tasks. Here are four signs of toxic productivity to watch out for.

Hard work is often seen as a virtue—but it’s also a way to avoid tackling problems in our personal lives or addressing feelings we’d rather not face by spending free time working. Work can come with short-term achievable goals with clear and predictable rewards for accomplishments. Interpersonal relationships and self-care are less well scripted and don’t always have the same positive reinforcement patterns. For some, the familiarity of work can help hide concerns with other areas of life, especially if they are less predictable and often outside your scope of control.

A common sign of toxic productivity is when you always seem to be focused on work, whether you’re constantly checking your email during time with friends or answering non-urgent communications late into the night during off hours. Especially during the pandemic, it can be easy to want to prove yourself as a model employee, but blurring the lines between work and your downtime can lead to burnout.

Our sense of worth comes from many different aspects of our lives: our relationships, our interests, our talents and hobbies—our careers are only one part of our lives. If you find yourself measuring your worth through your work, it could be a sign of toxic productivity. During a time of uncertainty, it can be easy to think excelling at work needs to be the focus. But it is also crucial to take time to cultivate other passions and hobbies that can promote better life balance.

Work isn’t everything. Our family and friends should continue to be important aspects in our lives, especially as we continue to navigate COVID-19. The pressure to perform at work can be especially high right now, considering the uncertainty of the world and job security. But it is also critical that we don’t neglect the people we care about. Not only can spending quality time with the important people in our lives strengthen our relationships, but it also allows us to take a break for the non-stop grind of work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the course of our lives in many ways. Even with the urge to prove to yourself and others that you are using this time to be productive, especially as it relates to work, it’s important to recognize why you might be putting all your energy towards your job. If you find yourself concealing your feeling of sadness and uncertainty with work, it’s time to talk to a professional who can guide you towards a solution for improving your mental health.

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