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Are You In the “Cult of Busyness” and How Can You Escape It?

burnout mental health stress Feb 28, 2024
Are You In the “Cult of Busyness” and How Can You Escape It?

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the busiest of them all? There’s no time to figure it out, because our schedules are absolutely crammed with appointments, deadlines, meetings, work calls, social occasions, family obligations, philanthropy, and whatever else there is to fill a diary with. Sound familiar? This is the trap of the Cult of Busyness. 

Also known as hustle culture or performative workaholism, It’s a lifestyle defined by an excessive amount of activity and productivity at an exhaustingly unsustainable rate. Among the various psychological and physical effects of “optimal busyness” being hailed as a status symbol, the associated increasing level of workaholism is leading to higher and higher rates of burnout, stress, and illness throughout the world. Yet considering the toll it’s taking on our health, why do we all find it so difficult to slow down? Why are so many of us unable to find a little more balance, get a little more rest, and clear some space in the schedule for some R&R?

Addicted to the grind

The Cult of Busyness is actually an addiction. It is an unhealthy pattern of behavior caused by a nervous system that doesn’t feel safe to slow down. Even the things we do to “relax” often keep us in an activated state, such as scrolling through social media, filling every moment of our spare time with a podcast, or making every minute of our leisure time “productive”. Workaholism – the compulsion to undertake excessive amounts of work at the cost of self-care and personal relationships – feeds into this. It’s even celebrated by a mainstream culture which upholds a belief system that we are only “worth” what we can produce or consume. This oppressive power structure ultimately keeps everyone too distracted and exhausted to ask the big question: who is actually profiting from the Cult of Busyness? 

How to wean yourself off the Cult

Humans didn’t evolve to be so busy – prior to the Agricultural Revolution we only worked around 15 hours a week, and the rest of our time was spent resting, gossiping, and having fun. Fast forward 10,000 years, and we’re now so used to stretching ourselves to the very limits of what we can cope with that the very idea of stopping to be still and quiet and present with ourselves is…unthinkable. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost: there is a way back. Here are some tips to help you to recover from the Cult of Busyness and start slowing down.  

1. Question Your Workload

If you are struggling to meet deadlines within your contracted hours or create boundaries around your time and energy, then your employer is failing to resource their company properly. But they won’t know that unless you make it clear that your current workload is not sustainable, and that something has to give. Ask yourself if you’re being taken advantage of – and if so, then how much – and where can you push back? There is always more work that can be done in any role, but particularly if you’re already hitting your maximum productivity limits each day (and risking job burnout), you will do a better job of it after some downtime and a good night’s rest. 

Discover practical ways to prevent burnout and manage stress better in Sha-En's 'How to Prevent Burnout' short course. 

2. Question Your FOMO

It can be hard to say no to a social activity – especially when it’s something that seems fun and harmless. But think about whether it will recharge you or leave you depleted: Are you saying yes because you truly want to be there, because you feel obligated to join in, or because of a fear of missing out (also known as FOMO)? If it’s either of the latter, could you give yourself a night in doing some self-care, and catch up with the gang another time instead? If missing out leaves you feeling insecure about your friendships or self-worth, then consider doing some work to build up your self-esteem and confidence

3. Spend Time With Yourself

Dedicate some time each week to hanging out with me, myself, and I. That means finding something pleasurable, fun, or creative to do solo. This could involve doing some movement meditation, or cooking something delicious and eating it without distractions, for instance. If spending more time alone isn’t something easily accessible to you, you can at least strive to take part in mindful activities in the kind of quiet company that allows you to feel fully rested and recharged – such as the type of friendships where you can sit in a genuinely comfortable silence together. Switch off all devices for a while, allow yourself to be fully present, and follow the joy. Connect to your inner child and rediscover the ways you love to express yourself. Making this a regular practice can be a compelling reminder that you are enough, just as you are. Let it act as a reminder that you have nothing to prove to anyone  – or even yourself – about the value you bring to the world: your worth is not dependent on your productivity. 

4. Cultivate Your Mind-Body Connection

The Cult of Busyness keeps us very disconnected from our bodies, emotions, and intuition. This can lead to a self-sabotaging cycle of behaviors and decisions that are reactive rather than proactive. Make it a practice to sit in the stillness, and listen to the messages your body is trying to send you. Try some meditation techniques or journaling, or find a mental health professional to help you unpack the thoughts and feelings you are actively avoiding by staying busy. The journey back to yourself might not be easy, but it will be so worth the rewards of your time, energy and peace. 

Letting go of the constant “rise and grind” mindset isn’t easy, particularly when it is still so prevalent that the World Health Organization deems burnout a diagnosable condition that is something more than a symptom of stress. But it can be done. While you may not be able to instantly change the mentality of the people around you, the change starts with you. Being someone who dares to stop pretending that endless hustle is the only way to showcase your ambition, and having the courage to finally start prioritizing the equally important need to find space for rest and your mental health, is an ideal place to start. Perhaps then, when we are able to see more examples of what a healthier version of that elusive work-life balance looks like among our peers, we may also help to create a world where the false glamor of endless and relentless toil is a thing of the past: for others, and for ourselves. 


All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: The Impact Of Everyday Stressors On The Immune System And Health; Understanding The Burnout Experience; Long-Term Consequences Of Burnout: An Exploratory Study; Hustle Culture And The Implications For Our Workforce; What You Love Is Killing You: Stopping Hustle Culture In The Performing Arts

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