The Great Exhaustion is a term, coined during Covid, that describes society’s collective fatigue. Our attempt at being everything for everyone is simply not serving us.
I recently attended an all-day business meeting for my sorority. Due to location, travel time, and to avoid potential complications (Navy vs. Notre Dame at Ravens stadium in Baltimore), I was on the road at zero dark thirty.
The event was phenomenal! It met all my expectations plus it offered the opportunity to catch up with some acquaintances I hadn’t seen in years.
We started the meeting in focused meditation providing a chance to set intentions. As the day progressed, I gained knowledge on new initiatives and felt motivated by the shared commitment of attendees. There was time built in for bonding, photo ops and professional networking. This event was energy giving! I was excited and ready to work in service to the organization and to my community.
Despite my excitement, I was bushed by the end of the day. Getting up before five and the need to be “on” all day had taken a toll. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and needed some downtime. It’s what happens when introverts exercise their extrovert muscles. So, when I got home, I took time for me and slept for an hour. That nap was epic! It was what I needed. And it gave me time to rest and recover. After resting, I spent some time reflecting on the day. I processed the experience and considered how I planned to engage in the coming year. I took it easy for the remainder of the day and it felt good not to be committed to “doing something.”
Willing and Fatigued
Increasingly, it seems the idea of rest and recovery have become revolutionary. During the pandemic, people reported record high instances of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. That’s not surprising given that home and work melded together over the last two years.
When considering our experience with the pandemic and social isolation, we realize many of us have been navigating a continuous loop of blurred boundaries, fatigue, sickness, loss, and the expectation to produce. What we’ve experienced is enough to send the most balanced person running for cover but somehow, we managed it. Many did so while giving the appearance that everything is “social media perfect” and neglecting our most basic human needs in the process.
Countless people are experiencing weariness. We’ve made it through the last two and a half years tattered and deeply fatigued. We’ve showing up, in many cases, unaware that we’re functioning at far less than our best. Somewhere along our journey we’ve internalized the idea that it’s not ok to slowdown. Going a step further, I believe we have unwittingly embraced the idea of toxic productivity. This notion that there’s more value in doing as opposed to being still.
Society and, by extension, the workplace seems to have embraced the idea that we must constantly be busy. This manic, sometimes self-imposed, pressure is unhealthy and can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, burnout, and even depression. I’m not saying productivity is a bad thing. However, when the need to “do” drives your actions and borders on harmful or compulsive, it’s a sign that you may need to realign your priorities.
In life and at work, toxic productivity can be volunteering to take on too much, unnecessarily involving yourself in the life and work of others and overcommitting without prompting. These actions can lead to us feeling distracted, tired, and unfulfilled.
Reclaiming Your Balance
Is there anything we can do about toxic productivity? Or is this something we give in to, taking vitamins and resigning ourselves to a lifetime of weariness? I say no! There are ways to move forward and shift our perspective from busyness to balance.
First, it’s important to acknowledge how we’ve normalized toxic productivity and “doing” as a way of life. We unconstructively judge ourselves and others when there’s nothing to do. We feel awkward and triggered to “make ourselves useful.”
The next step is critical and involves re-training ourselves to prioritize down-time. By doing so, we free up emotional space and can start to acknowledge and prioritize our own needs. In my coaching practice I’ve found that we’re so busy processing external influences, we sometimes lose touch with our internal essence. Grant yourself permission to slow down, move with purpose and release the fear of missing out.
Finally, get comfortable with keeping your own company. Technology and social media have expertly honed our skills of call and response. We must reclaim the ability to think for ourselves, tap into our intuition and follow our paths to balance and well-being.
If you have questions about toxic productivity or reclaiming balance in your life, please contact me here.