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6 Signs You Developed 'Productivity Shame' In Childhood & It's Affecting You Now

Photo: Stock-Asso / Shutterstock; @Michelle.Maalouf / TikTok
exhausted woman at her desk

Somewhere along life's path, some of us got the idea that in order to be valued or worthy, we needed to be achieving something or appearing to be eternally busy. Rest and self-care was considered "lazy" and was something we wanted to avoid at all costs.

Perhaps this narrative was consciously pushed by our caretakers in childhood or maybe we simply took notice of the accolades those who exhibited consistent productivity received. Another possibility is that modern society's favorable view on being productive or hustling has influenced you. 

What is productivity shame?

Productivity shame is a term used to describe feelings of inadequacy or guilt when one perceives themselves as not being "productive enough." For example, you set unrealistically high goals, and then blames themselves when they fail to meet those goals.

Essentially, productivity shame brings on feelings that you haven't done "enough." This conceptcan be detrimental to your mental, emotional, or even physical health.

Therapist Micheline Maalouf exemplified this perfectly in a video she uploaded to TikTok.

Maalouf is relaxing on the couch, talking on the phone when she hears the garage door open and leaps into action. She pretends to be active when someone walks in by washing the dishes. The mere fact that she is not alone causes anxiety about potentially being perceived as doing nothing. 



RELATED: 15 Habits Of Highly Productive People

How does someone develop productivity shame?

As mentioned above, productivity shame is a result of nature, nurture, or a combination of both. You have to be killing it in every single area of life — professional, personal, and in your appearance.

You feel like there is always something you could be doing, and if you are not, you get the feeling you wasted a day and see yourself as an underachiever. It almost feels like a crime to just be& — to sit in silence and do absolutely nothing.

The pandemic is a prime example of a time where people were supposed to be recharging but were seeking new things to keep them busy at home. 

You may have seen people who led by example, teaching you to overwork to the point of burnout just to keep up appearances. Or, you've seen others rewarded for doing things, no matter how effective their actions were.

Productivity shame will eventually make you toxically productive, acting just to act, and leaving no room for rest and rejuvenation. You keep moving at the risk of your mental health and might fall victim to depression or burnout

According to clinical psychologist Kathryn Esquer, productivity gives us a dopamine hit to make us feel good, albeit temporarily. It also allows you to do things that you were in control of when life seems to be out of control. Though you may feel like you made the most of your time, the risk might not be worth the reward. 

RELATED: 5 Ways The Most Successful People Turn Anxiety Into Productivity

Here are 6 glaring signs you have toxic productivity.

1. You experience guilt or shame about not doing enough. 

Even when you have had what would be considered a productive day by any measure, you still have a feeling that you could have and should have done more. Your expectations about your work are unrealistic and you want your day to be viewed as "exceptional" every day. 

2. You feel fatigued and are suffering from burnout. 

Overworking for an extended perios of time can result in extreme exhaustion where your morale lowers and you begin to suffer from health problems because you are not giving your body the time it needs to restore itself.

3. You're anxious or depressed.

Chronic activity can leave you feeling down or give you anxiety about what you could have gotten done, but didn't. It makes you feel isolated since most of your time is dedicated to working instead of spending meaningful time with people you love. 

4. You focus on activities that offer a return on your investment.

Whether it be financially and you feel like "if it don't make dollars, it don't make sense," or aesthetically where you want other people to always perceive you as working on something, you choose to only participate in things you can get something out of. You don't give yourself the opportunity to stop and smell the roses. 

5. Your work frequently imposes on your downtime. 

You leap at the chance to work overtime or extra hours, whether it's necessary or not. You mindset is that if there is work available, you will take it, making work-life balance nearly impossible.

6. You put self-care on the back burner. 

The biggest problem of all is the tendency to neglect taking care of yourself when you have productivity shame. You forego things that make you feel good and give you a sense of enjoyment and zest for life. You are always "on" and your well-being is not prioritized. 

If you believe you have productivity shame, take inventory of your health and overall state of being. Honestly admit if you are burning the candle at both ends and gradually start to pull back from the need to show yourself and others that you are not "lazy" and are always busying yourself.

It's never too late to focus on being the best version of yourself possible. 

RELATED: The #1 Most Effective Self-Care Ritual — According To 34 Healing & Wellness Experts

NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and author of seven books. She covers lifestyle and entertainment and news, as well as navigating the workplace and social issues.