Gen Z Is Struggling With Toxic Productivity Now More Than Ever

By: Sophene Avedissian

Photo Credit: The Conversation


Many teenagers go to bed feeling drained and exhausted, both emotionally and physically. Yet, despite all that they have done throughout the day, from going to school to working on homework for hours on end, a sense of dissatisfaction takes over them; this feeling exterminates any confidence they may feel about themselves. However, this feeling is never put to rest; it is perpetual and continues making noise in teenagers’ minds. This never-ending cycle is infamously known as toxic productivity.

During the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, toxic productivity was exacerbated. With an abundance of time on their hands, students felt pressured to spend their time in “wise” or “smart ways.” For some, this meant working an unreasonable amount of time on homework. For others, it means starting new projects with their main intention being silencing the persistent noise in their head that conceals itself as toxic productivity. Along with a countless number of other students, I found myself always wanting to do more; the urge to always be more overwhelmed me like nothing else. Free time spent relaxing and taking care of myself became my biggest enemy. During the times in which I did take time for myself, I was, inevitably, guilty.

I should be working on homework, I would think to myself.

The question “What else should I work on now?” rushes through my mind several times a day. And now, as the world returns to normalcy, in some respects, toxic productivity still manages to be a challenge for me. During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, I believed that once I returned to in-person school, the plethora of distractions surrounding me would drown the “noise” of toxic productivity. But, much to my surprise, it did not. In fact, toxic productivity, at the beginning of this school year, was extremely difficult to manage.

Eventually, there came a time where the noise was too much for me to handle. And so, I was forced to prioritize self-care, rather than the number of tasks I am able to complete on my to-do list. Once I put myself first, the noise subsided and I could hear myself again. This, of course, is easier said than done. But, once one begins valuing themselves overwork, the cycle of toxic productivity ceases.


Dr. Julie Smith, a clinical psychologist who has her own practice, commented, “We also have a wider cultural problem in our society. That pressure to be constantly available online and on social media means that the world almost has a constant view into our lives. That compels pressure to appear a certain way to family, friends, or potential employers. We are bombarded with outbursts every day that encourage ourselves to measure our self-worth on our productivity.”

Toxic productivity is a direct result of society. Students scrolling on social media see posts that show influencers working or living their what-seem-to-be perfect lives. But, underneath the computer screen, they, like others, are struggling to find a balance between work and self-care.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Kathryn Esquer, a psychologist, explained, “Toxic productivity can make us feel like a failure if we’re not constantly ‘doing.’ When toxic productivity is leading your life, you judge yourself every day for what you haven’t done, rather than looking at what you have accomplished.”

The transition from remote learning to in-person school has been stressful for numerous students. Stress can directly lead to one getting trapped in the cycle of toxic productivity. It is more important than ever for teenagers to give themselves breaks and remember to take a few minutes out of their day to simply be present.

Doing “nothing” is sometimes the best decision teenagers can make for themselves. Teens should not let the “noise” overwhelm them until they cannot hear anything else.