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"Rise And Grind" - Why Hustle Culture Is Actually Ruining Your Mental Health

We all have bills to pay, dreams to achieve, adventures to have. A life well-lived revolves around the experiences you have, the people you meet, and having the time to actually enjoy the life you've built for yourself. A big part of that is building the life in the first place - but if the foundation of your life is built on an unrelenting, grind-till-you-die ideology, the last day of construction will never come. You will keep grinding and building and dreaming of the day your efforts all come to fruition, all while never getting to live the life you've already built for yourself.

Hustle culture doesn't take breaks. You are working at 110% capacity at all times - working through your lunches, on the train ride home, and in between dinner and chatting with your family. Times when you should be resting, when you should be enjoying your time away from work, are inevitably spent still revolving around the grind. Every minute of every day, all 1440 of them, is utilized to maximize your productivity, and maximize your hustle.

Are you tired? Too bad. You aren't done, so you gotta keep pushing. Overloading yourself with too much work is already going to weigh it's toll on you, but now you need to add in the fact that grind culture means you LOVE what you do - that's why you're grinding so hard! No matter how painful the situation, the workload, the lack of a work/life balance - you grin and bear it and maintain the façade that everything's exactly the way you want it to be.

If it's so bad, why is it so popular?

Grind culture calls upon a very particular psychological behaviors in the human brain. As a species, we are taught to associate actions and activities with rewards and punishments - these are referred to as forms of 'operant conditioning'. One of the most specific varieties, a reinforcement schedule, is what hustle culture uses to keep its hold over us. Having hustle culture reward individuals after a random number of times/events, it utilizes a 'variable ratio schedule', which is the strongest of all reinforcement schedules.

The lottery utilizes the same schedule, and in 2017 alone 49% of adults reported that they had bought lottery tickets in a year - often spending over $1,000 through the duration of the year on tickets. Knowing that you're 20x more likely to die from drinking tap water, or 26x more likely to die from a lightning strike, than you are likely to win the lottery (but we still have this many people actively participating) reinforces just how severe the variable ration schedule is to the human brain.

People who are dedicated to the grind culture become dependent upon the unpredictable rewards of their successes, which results in a rush that pushes them to keep hanging on until the next win. It is a vicious cycle that will keep you in a perpetual grind and never give you a chance to take a breath and enjoy the successes you have so far.

But how is it affecting me?

Grind culture says 'go hard or go home', and being constantly put in that mindset puts your body into fight or flight mode. High levels of stress (which is absolutely associated with grind culture) releases cortisol into your body. Higher amounts of cortisol for longer periods of time means that your body must rest to overcome for the chemical stresses it's been undergoing. Unfortunately for you, grind culture doesn't call for rest - ever. Without resting, burnout is inevitable - and so are all the negative side effects that come with it! Long-term elevated cortisol levels in the human body can be associated with directly effecting any depression or anxiety symptoms you may have had already (or promote new ones), but can also cause memory issues, digestive problems, sleep issues, and weight gain. Worst case scenario, you could end up with heart problems, blood pressure issues, and even experience a stroke.

Ironically, the whole idea of grind culture is to work obscenely hard now, so you can really enjoy the payoffs later. But if you're burnt out, you can't even put in the grind! If you follow the culture, and you spend too much time on anything even remotely not work related, you start to feel guilty. Overworking yourself leads to disliking your work, and forcing yourself to keep overworking at something you now dislike is not good for your mental health.

Research from the Mayo Clinic has shown that higher levels of stress and cortisol in the body lead to lowered levels of professional productivity. For an employee to produce quality work, they must feel personal satisfaction and pride in their work, not simply be capable of doing a lot of it. There is a positive association between the wellbeing of an employee, and their productivity. If employees are less stressed (for example, they can take social breaks and chat with coworkers for a few minutes between meetings, or they have the availability to step away for an hour and come back with fresh eyes), they experience improved productivity.

As a society, our recent experiences with the Covid-19 pandemic really highlighted the seriousness of mental health in our culture. Employees rank mental health as the number one factor as it related to their worker wellbeing. It is at the forefront of current company culture trends, which is important - leaders need to take notice. The concept of grind culture is great to promote that level of productivity and excitement that you are looking for out of your staff, but it's just as important to try as it is to rest when it's necessary. Grind culture alone is not beneficial to the wellbeing of your employees, or yourself.

By putting yourself in an increased state of stress, on the most basic scientific level, grind culture is paradoxically lowering productivity levels, and therefore negatively effecting the overall goal of 'the grind' in the first place.

So what do I do if I'm stuck in the hustle mindset?

Eventually, you might get to the point where you realize you've been living by 'rise or grind' for too long and it's not serving your life the way that it should. How do we take steps to better ourselves? Here are some suggestions from Mayo Clinic:

  1. Become aware of yourself - being aware of the cycle of hustle culture, and realizing that you are a part of it, is the most important first step. Do you feel like the only thing you do is work? Tired constantly? No energy?

  2. Set your goals - it's important to make a list for yourself of what your goals really are. What is actually important to you - and why? Think about this and make sure that your goals are really serving you.

  3. Make a Perfect Day list - with your actual goals and priorities established, you can write out how to plan to achieve them while still thinking about your mental health and wellbeing. Start off with the tasks that are mandatory for that day, and work down to think that could be pushed to another time if you don't get around to them.

  4. Let your mind wander - you don't have to be turned on to work thoughts 24/7. As a matter of fact, it's better to give yourself little micro-breaks and zone out here and there! Letting your brain rest and think about what it wants to will help you feel more balanced, and it'll help you better protect yourself from getting burnt out.

  5. Rewards come now, not later - the biggest problem with grind culture is that the payoff comes someday. But someday payoffs mean you never get to experience the positive effects of your success! If you schedule rewards in for yourself, then you can promote the effective productivity you want without burning out.

  6. Don't forget to rest - self-care is NOT a privilege, or something that you have to earn. You should lead your life with self-love and compassion, and remember that sometimes you will need mental health days. It isn't healthy for your brain to be on-on-on 24/7, and treating yourself with respect is an important step to getting out of the hustle cycle.

We all have goals we aspire to, and dreams we want to achieve. We've been trained for years by society and the world around us that if you want something, you have to work hard for it. Although that is true (we all know the world doesn't often give hand-outs), it is important to remember that working isn't the only thing there is. Not all 1440 minutes of the day should be dedicated to production, to work, to hustling. You need time for yourself, for your family, and for your brain and body to rest.

You can't grind for a better future if you've put yourself in an early grave.


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