Is the rise of pandemic productivity toxic? It’s okay if you didn’t ‘make the most’ of lockdown

Did I learn to bake bread last year? Sour-no chance!

toxic productivity in the pandemic
For some of us, lockdown felt more like a prison than an opportunity to be productive (Photo by Dennis Anderson)

We have been busy in 2020. An unexpected notion during lockdown. With a surplus of never-ending time on hand, people seized the opportunity to use their newly stagnant lives to spice things up by learning new skills: languages, baking, jewellery-making, teachers – as much as we could. Positivity was in the air, and motivation was soaring – so said the internet.

Positivity was in the air, and motivation was soaring – so said the internet.

As real life was traded for virtual reality, we had front-row seats into the lives of friends and colleagues and their marvels and milestones achieved with this newfound time. For me, it was quite the opposite.

toxic positivity optimism
Positivity is a great example of that fact that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing (Photo by Nick Fewings)

The urge to do anything had perished, along with a tolerance for blanket optimism. As I scrolled through Instagram in bed on my one day-off from the call centre job that had ceased to give my life any meaning and divide between work and home, I was met by a sea of virtual go-getters. It made me nauseous.

At only 9:38am, my day successfully began with black coffee being flung over the crisp, white bedsheets I’d bought from Ikea a week earlier for a painful £40 in an attempt at ‘adulting’; a concept I was far removed from, especially during a global pandemic. So, instead of making haste and bolting to the washing machine, I stewed. And scrolled. 

I was met by a sea of virtual go-getters and it made me nauseous

One friend had arisen at 7am to complete a 10k run.  Posting her afterglow and Strava-route paired with a motivational caption, I double-tapped the screen. Glancing briefly at my sad, pristine trainers by the door, I resumed scrolling.

Another acquaintance – who had not previously flaunted a talent for baking – had freshly prepared cinnamon buns for breakfast with no visibly charcoaled edges. I was salivating, and jealous. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to make a smoothie with my (probably rusted) Nutri-bullet. 

toxic positivity sourdough
In almost no time, sourdough became a pandemic baking staple (Photo by Tommaso Urli)

Then, my screen illuminated with the pièce-de-résistance. The most lockdown pastime to ever lockdown: sourdough. Accompanied by hand-churned butter and succulent tomatoes from their home-grown vegetable patch, no doubt, it was only mid-morning and the couple in question had already prepared lunch.  

The most lockdown pastime to ever lockdown: sourdough

The more I scrolled, ogling at pinnacles of productivity, the more negative I became. It was The Social Dilemma manifesting, dragging me into a hole of self-loathing and annoyance at those who were grabbing life by the horns and doing. Why? Because I wasn’t. 

Kudos to them for getting a seemingly successful head-start on the day, month, hell, even in life. But this productivity dangled in front of my face was not encouraging; it became a catalyst: I burrowed into an ever-deepening hole of “I’m not doing enough.”

That toxic anxiety then snowballs into “I do not have the right to feel bad.” Since the pandemic began, this thinking and pressure to do more is something many of us have fallen prey to. Talking to Glamour, Results Wellness Lifestyle nurse Emma Selby says, “Ultimately, it’s an unachievable goal; no matter how productive you are, the result you are left with is a feeling of guilt for not having done ‘more’.” 

I burrowed into an ever-deepening hole of “I’m not doing enough”

So, it is okay to feel like you’re failing because you haven’t completed your Five For 5k or done any feel-good baking yet. It is okay to feel mad at the world and reject the constant pressure for positivity. It is okay to not do anything monumental, productive or even average. Because being, is still doing. 

However, my one piece of advice: if you do spill coffee on white sheets… run. To the washing machine. As fast as you can. Then you can count that as your exercise for the day. 

What do you do when you feel like you aren’t doing enough?

Remind yourself that it is okay to take a breath, or two, or three – and by breath, I mean time to switch off. These tips may help:

  • Rest. Set aside time in the day to go for a walk – without any technology or distraction.  
  • Take an hour to do what you want to do, not what you think you need to do
  • Take a break from social media. Social media spirals us into a vicious cycle. Seeing what others are doing > feeling like you should be doing something > feel bad > downward spiral > back to Instagram for that dopamine hit > seeing what others are doing, and so on. By removing yourself from the equation (i.e., Viewer/liker/poster) you will not feel the need to compare yourself to others who seem like they have got it all together. 
  • Write your feelings down. Poetry, Dear Diary, write the next number one single… too much pressure?
  • Talk to friends and family. Explain how you feel. Open up.
  • Download a meditation app and ‘Om’ away
toxic positivity break
If toxic positivity online is getting to you, it might be time
to switch off social media (Photo by S L)