When Creativity Turns Into Workaholism
Are we sacrificing our mental health to maximize our free time?
I had a conversation with my mom yesterday wherein she told me she felt guilty just sitting around doing nothing. Knowing my mother, this makes sense. She’s constantly cleaning out a closet or grading papers or working out. She always needs to keep busy. I understood her anxiety; after all, I’m the same way.
Only boring people get bored. That is the motto I live by, especially during this quarantine. And it shows; my creativity has blossomed in quarantine. I’ve been drawing, painting, singing, reorganizing, and renovating. But I know that while I enjoy these activities, I do them more so to fill time than out of genuine interest. I need something to do; how else do I avoid going insane?
But that is just the issue; we don’t really have to do anything in quarantine. Besides students and teachers who need to do schoolwork and essential workers who have to work, those in quarantine don’t need to create. They don’t need to churn out product after product like the American workweek has conditioned us to do. We have to stay home. Government leaders urge us to stay home, and yet we can’t shake workaholic’s guilt.
When I tell my mom I’m doing nothing, she says, you can’t be doing nothing. You have to be doing something. Doing nothing has become an unacceptable answer; we must always be doing, creating, and contributing. And often, that comes at the price of our mental health.
Long work hours often contribute to more stress and anxiety, but I seldom hear discussion surrounding home-work.
Home-work (noun/verb): Thinking, stressing, or continuing work after hours or during your home time; being unable to shake off work in non-work situations.
According to a study done in Norway, there is a strong link between workaholism and mental illness (ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and depression). More so, workaholism affects our self-worth, too. When we define our worth by our productivity, we feel awful when we can't continuously work. This makes us put our mental health by the wayside in favor of working, which then makes it harder to continue working. It is a vicious cycle.
During quarantine, I have noticed this in myself. During days when my mental illness acts up and I can’t accomplish as much as I want to, I immediately feel shame. I am unable to just sit around, I have to be contributing!
But contributing to what, exactly?
My mental health is my top priority. If I can’t look after that, nothing else matters; my work, my passions, everything will be affected if I let my mental health go. But when I finish my homework, I do not let myself be; I have to do something else, something more. But suddenly, the things I loved to do now have become time fillers. Creativity turned to productivity; now, I don’t paint for pleasure, I paint to pass time. I do not read for enjoyment, but as a competition; how many books can I finish per month? My time is not my own anymore; I must always be working, working toward a finish line that keeps moving. I have to create something otherwise I’m lazy.
But maybe lazy is what we need to be. Or, lazier.
The more we let workaholism take over our lives, the more love we suck out of our passions. Allowing yourself time to be, enjoy, and create freely lets us truly live our most full lives. Give yourself permission to be. So, let’s be lazier in this quarantine. Maybe it’ll be the thing to save our passions, not make them dwindle out.