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Stop feeling guilty about being unproductive

Why do we so badly want to be productive with all this free time? Keep reading to understand where the pressure is coming from and how it impacts our mental health.

woman sitting at desk writing on paper

As we have more and more free time, it’s natural to want to make the most of it and do something “productive.” To use this time as an opportunity for self-improvement. We’re bombarded with messages about picking up new hobbies, learning new languages, or creating a sourdough starter. Where is this pressure coming from, and how does it affect our mental health? 

Why do we so badly want to be productive? 

We live in a society that ties our work with our identity and places a lot of value on our work and what we do. Naturally, if we have extra time at home, we automatically think we have the mental and physical capacity to take on more than our usual responsibilities of work and life. But it doesn’t work like that. 

Our ability to be productive has suddenly been taken away by circumstances beyond our control. Yet we still feel the need to account for our time and defend the ways we’re spending it. This feeling of guilt can affect your mental health. 

Why am I not able to be productive? 

It’s ok to find it difficult and challenging to focus. There are a number of things working against your ability to accomplish tasks and you may feel pulled in multiple directions. Being inundated with the news cycle, seeing family members losing jobs, colleagues getting sick and front-line workers getting overwhelmed can cause sleepless nights, scattered thoughts, and strong emotions. We’re spending lots of time and energy on adjusting to the new normal. This may mean working from home while taking on the role of homeschool teacher, caring for ill family members, sanitizing our deliveries and dealing with the fallout of mass layoffs — magnifying our intense emotions. All these things, alone or together, can affect our mental health.

If you’re feeling productive, great! 

Being productive by picking up a hobby, starting a project or doing an online course can be a great coping mechanism. But be careful not to overextend yourself or you may burn out. These activities should be fun — and not cause more strain on your mental well-being. 

Top 3 ways to take care of yourself and your mental health 

  1. Take care of your physical health.
    Your body will need time to recover after this is all over. Stress releases the hormone cortisol, which can have a lasting impact on our immune system. Just when we need people back on the job to repair and rebuild the economy, we can expect a sharp spike in absenteeism and burnout.

  2. Allow yourself to be “unproductive.”
    Stop imposing expectations on yourself. This “extra time” isn’t something we asked for, nor was it something earned, so it doesn’t need to be filled with anything.

  3. Take the time to do something positive for yourself.
    Practice self-care. This looks different for everyone, but here are a few suggestions that will support your physical and mental health. 

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