The hustle culture. A modern mindset that glorifies the grind, the soldier-on and “no pain no gain”. Side hustles are certainly a product of the modern mindset, soaring in popularity during the employment slump and lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, a ‘side’ hustle is what the name suggests; it is in addition to the ‘main’ hustle. So what happens when the grind starts to wear you away?
Rise and grind
To ‘hustle’ is to charge. To do what needs to be done to get ahead no matter the sacrifice. This is what the modern work culture is all about. Oh, you take lunch breaks? Lazy. You leave work on time each day? No dedication. You have work-life balance? Not working hard enough. We wear our stress like a badge of honour and celebrate always being ‘on’. The truth is, our society values productivity over health. The rise of the entrepreneur has further fuelled this mentality because success can only be achieved with a decent dose of anxiety each day and money never sleeps so why should you? Don’t get me wrong, ambition is great and there’s nothing wrong with being a hard worker. Be damn proud of that. Rather, it’s about knowing how to read the signs when you’re pushing too hard. We may start out bright-eyed and full of ambition but this can quickly turn into red-eyed and down with exhaustion.
When the hustle hurts
I’ve been there, several times in fact over the last 15 working years. First at work, last to leave. Taking my work home with me. Getting more liberal with the concealer each day then joking with colleagues about how many coffees we’ve already had by 11am. Hilarious. Stress is now glamorous with a large coffee filled travel mug your best accessory. A psychiatrist from the 70s was the first to define the concept of burnout when studying workers in healthcare. However, while still an overly common phenomenon in healthcare roles, burnout can happen to anyone whether you study, work from home or you’re a full time parent (especially if you’re a full time parent).
The signs of burnout
While burnout is basically a household term and another worldwide pandemic, most folks may not even realise it’s what they are experiencing. It can be defined as “task-related stress syndrome resulting in emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment”. Let’s break down what that means and actually looks like:
1. You’re exhausted
You know when you’re so tired that you can close your eyes at any time of the day and you could just keep them closed forever? You’re tired and drained. You’re exhausted both physically and emotionally. The lure of coffee might be the only thing dragging you out of bed because getting out of bed hurts.
2. So tired but you can’t sleep
This is the ironic thing about burnout, you can be so unbelievably tired and exhausted yet absolutely struggle to get to sleep. Insomnia and restlessness are linked to burnout and the added lack of sleep can further fuel burnout symptoms resulting in a vicious cycle. Consistent poor sleep is also linked to many other serious health risks.
3. You’re pessimistic and intolerant
You’re tired and frankly just over everything. People with burnout can adopt a very pessimistic and cynical view on life. This is the “depersonalisation” pillar of burnout. You can become frustrated with your job while start distancing yourself emotionally from aspects in your life or even feel numb. Then there’s your tolerance. Closely linked to pessimism but more bite-y. Everything gets under your skin and you may find yourself taking this out on your colleagues or family. This is no longer mild stress, the smallest inconvenience can set you off.
4. Your head aches or your stomach aches, or both
Remember that 70s psychologist who coined the concept of burnout? It was in that study that he observed people with burnout frequently experiencing headaches as a physical manifestation of the disorder. Gastrointestinal disturbances are another physical symptom as we know that everything is linked to your gut. Bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion and nausea are just some of the not-so-fun symptoms you could be having.
5. You feel useless
A lack of concentration or a constantly wandering mind is a sure sign that burnout could be fast approaching. You feel incompetent which can lead to a lack of accomplishment or productivity. This is where pushing yourself to burnout is so counter productive because motivation and creativity go out the window.
6. You’re keep getting sick
Your immune system can become compromised during burnout resulting in constant colds and feeling under the weather. This, coupled with a lack of motivation, means that the sick days may start piling up leaving you feeling even worse about your current situation in life. Stress is inflammatory which can set off a chain reaction of inflammation and damage to tissues in the body, leading to increased risk of serious conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
7. Drinks, drugs and comfort food
Another tell-tale sign you’re pushing too hard is relying on caffeine to get going, alcohol to wind down and food to feel comfort. Self medicating or an increased uptake of drugs and alcohol could also be occurring. Reliance on or abuse of any substance whether it be food, drugs or alcohol can be a hint of something more serious and professional help should be consulted.
How to hustle, sans burnout
Viral motivational quotes such as “don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done” are counter-productive, because being tired is the biggest in your face neon sign that you’re going too hard. The easiest way to decrease stress is to remove the stressor…but if this is your job, your passion or even your child, probably not the most practical method. So what can you do if burnout is imminent or present but quitting isn’t an option?
1. Mind over matter
The sooner you realise your constant productivity isn’t productive, the better. Life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon and you’ll get more out of a day where you allow yourself to recharge. Burnout can create a tunnel vision outlook on life so if you are already there then you may have to reframe your mindset. If you are feeling beaten down and pessimistic about your situation, it might be time to remind yourself why you started and why you took on the extra work and responsibility.
2. Prioritise your health
When you get really busy, the first thing to be dropped is your own health. You start skipping meals, ordering out more, working through lunch or not making it to the gym. This will only fast track your trip to burnout with some extra risk to your health along the way. It’s no secret that exercise boosts brain function and clears your busy mind. The same goes for your diet. Want amazing mental clarity? Eat a balanced diet and don’t skip breakfast. Coffee isn’t breakfast (repeat that like a mantra if you have to). Listen to your body, it will tell you if you’re not giving it enough love.
If you’re a regular on the blog, you’ll already know how important this is. If you’re new, welcome. You need to be prioritising your sleep. Getting 7-9 hours is imperative to your mental and physical health and if you need some help in this department, click here. As we’ve covered, not getting enough quality sleep can further fuel the burnout fire. Let’s avoid that toxic downward spiral.
4. Care for yourself
A lack of self-care is one of the biggest contributing factors to burnout. Just 10 minutes of mindfulness a day is scientifically proven to boost cognitive function and reduce stress. Not big on mindfulness? Have a bath, read a book, walk on the beach or in nature. Do anything that clears your mind or makes you feel happy and calm.
5. Maintain your social life
It can be difficult to fit others into your busy schedule when you’re working towards building an empire. However, friends and family are critical for your wellbeing. I’m sure you’ve heard something along the lines of ‘we rise by building each other up’. It’s true. Make time each week to talk or spend time with someone who is your sounding board for your challenges and ideas. Talk to someone for ‘non-work’ chat. If you have a partner, spend quality time with them and try to keep ‘shop’ out of the conversations.
6. Give yourself time out
Separate your down time and your hustle time. Start setting boundaries for yourself within your day. Allocate a time period that you work on your goals so you don’t use all of your free time for hustling. It can be hard especially when you have so much to do or you’re passionate about what you’re doing. When I started this blog it was all I did but I quickly became aware of how much time I wasn’t dedicating to other things. This can also be difficult if, like me, you work full time during the day then study in the evenings. Where do you fit anything else in? Set yourself a cut-off time in the evenings so that you can wind down before bed, otherwise you’ll be wired, unable to fall asleep and be useless the next day. Apply this to your work too. Don’t be afraid to take breaks, go on leave or take a mental health day. Chances are you need it and your workplace will get more productivity out of you if you’re rested and balanced.
There’s no glory in the grind that grinds you down
I read that somewhere, likely on a motivational Instagram post and it struck a chord. It’s no secret that social media has a lot to answer for, distorting the younger generational view of what life is ‘supposed’ to look like and making us feel inadequate or feelings of failure if we aren’t making a month’s wage off a social media post. But social media aside, we need to stop viewing stress, anxiety and insomnia as a prerequisite for success. The issue isn’t just within ourselves, it runs deep in the veins of our workforce and hustle culture. You can work hard, be successful and passionate without slowly killing yourself. Don’t let it eat you away. Life is for living.
This post is dedicated to my partner. She’s a born hustler who has long lived by the motto “when you rest, you rust”. You should never try to change someone. Instead, you can inspire them, support them and be a positive influence their life.