For way too long, the trappings of so-called ‘hustle culture’ have kept us all under their grip. Fuelled by social media, the pressure to be more, do more and see more has affected us all in some way or another – whether you’ve pushed yourself too hard at work, said yes to every social invitation thrown your way or become obsessed with pursuing your ‘life goals’.
Conversations about the importance of setting boundaries, taking time to relax and practising self-care have gone some way towards dismantling this kind of thinking, but that doesn’t mean it’s disappeared overnight.
Hustle culture, unfortunately, is still alive and well – and while Covid-19 forced us all to slow down, the end of restrictions has led to a surge in this kind of behaviour.
“Hustle culture has been on the rise over the last two years,” explains Fatmata Kamara, a specialist mental health nurse advisor at Bupa UK. “Following the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, many of us have felt the pressure to stay busy and make up for lost time. However, leaving little time for yourself to unwind and relax can be harmful for your mental and physical health.”
Kamara continues: “Burnout, stress and fatigue are all signs you’re suffering from hustle culture. While ‘hustling’ can increase your motivation to work hard and achieve life goals, it’s also important to slow down and enjoy the little moments in life.”
As is always the way, the first step towards unpicking some of the most toxic habits hustle culture has led us to adopt is identifying the issue – after which you can take steps to actively undo the bad habits and replace them with healthy, positive ones instead.
So, to get you started, we asked Kamara to identify five of the most toxic habits that hustle culture has taught us all to adopt and provide us with some advice on how to tackle this behaviour.
If you intend to log off at 5.30pm every day but regularly find yourself working past 6.30pm, the chances are you’re stuck in a habit of overworking.
“Hustle culture places emphasis on spending most of your day focusing on work and achieving your career goals,” Kamara explains. “This can often spark feelings of worry, guilt or fear of falling behind, especially if you compare yourself to colleagues or friends.”
She continues: “Remember, it’s OK to take time out of your working day to unwind and take care of your mental health. Often taking a break from work leaves you refreshed and ready to tackle tasks you need to complete.
“Why not step away from your desk at lunch for a walk outside or a quick workout? Switching off after work and spending time doing the things you enjoy can also help you to de-stress after a busy day.”
2. Sleep procrastination
The pressure to be busy all the time can often lead to people sacrificing downtime. However, while downtime may not seem important – especially in the realm of hustle culture – it’s actually an essential thing we all need, and failing to dedicate time to relax and unwind can often lead to you ‘stealing’ it from other times of the day, like at bedtime.
“Sleep procrastination is the decision to sacrifice going to sleep to enjoy leisurely activities,” Kamara explains. “It is often driven by a busy daytime schedule that leaves little time for leisure. Scrolling on your phone, watching TV and catching up with friends late at night are all examples of sleep procrastination.
“Although it can be tempting to push the time you go to sleep back a little, sleep procrastination can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health.”
Kamara continues: “For example, a lack of sleep can reduce your productivity levels, leave you feeling exhausted and irritable. Similarly, poor sleeping habits can increase your risk of cardiovascular problems and diabetes.
“The best way to combat sleep procrastination is to set a bedtime routine that works for you. From keeping a consistent bedtime and wakeup time, avoiding screentime before bed and practising relaxation method such as reading a book or taking a calming bath – there are lots of ways you can create a bedtime routine.”
3. Comparison to others
One of the most toxic parts of hustle culture is its encouragement of competition and comparison – both of which you might find yourself subconsciously thinking about as a result.
“Comparing yourself to others can lower your self-esteem and cause you to set unrealistic expectations for yourself,” Kamara explains. “Focus on your own success – at the end of your working day, why not write down a few achievements? It can boost your self-esteem and keep you motivated and help you to switch off in the evenings.”
She continues: “Similarly, try to reduce the time you spend on social media, this can help reduce the likelihood of comparing yourself to others. Research has found that the more time people spend comparing themselves to others on social media, the more depressed they can feel. Make sure you follow the right people that leave you feeling positive and unfollow or delete any that cause you anxiety.”
4. Lack of interest in or time to enjoy hobbies
Because hustle culture places such an emphasis on being ‘productive’ 24/7, you might find it hard to enjoy hobbies or other relaxing activities that don’t bring you closer to your ‘goals’.
“Leaving yourself with no time to relax at the end of the day can be harmful for your mental health,” Kamara points out. “Research has revealed people with hobbies are less likely to suffer from stress, low mood and depression. Hobbies are also a great way to socialise with others and make friends.”
She continues: “A hobby can be creative, athletic or even something personal to you. Take time out for your day to do the things you enjoy. If you have a creative flare, make time to do something creative or if you like being outdoors make time to take yourself on a walk or run. These things are important but often get pushed to the bottom of your priority list.”
5. Setting unrealistic expectations
It’s OK to be ambitious, but putting yourself under pressure to achieve something every second of the day can take a serious toll on your wellbeing in the long run.
“Following a lifestyle where ‘every second must count’ means you can end up setting unrealistic expectations – both at work and in your personal life,” Kamara explains. “While setting goals can boost your motivation, it is important to set goals that are attainable. Unrealistic goals increase your risk of burnout or giving up on your aspirations too early.”
She continues: “When setting goals, try breaking a goal down over a longer period. This can help you to keep track of your achievements and boost your self-esteem. For example, if your aim is to run a marathon, start by completing shorter distance runs before committing to a marathon. Or if your goal is to get a promotion at work, set yourself smaller tasks of developing your skills and knowledge.”