Opinion | Cancel hustle culture during this pandemic

By Genna Edwards, Staff Columnist

Whether it be on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook — you’re likely to have seen the same “inspirational content” that I have the past few days.

On Instagram it’ll show up as a text post with maybe a cute pastel background, where letters type out phrases that have haunted me since the start of the COVID-19 panic. Did you know that Newton discovered the theory of gravity while in quarantine? Shakespeare himself wrote “King Lear” while stuck inside during a plague! So-and-so author, so-and-so artist, created their magnum opus while facing exactly what you are now!

As a creative myself, I for one have done absolutely nothing since this panic broke out. “Why?” you ask, unrolling your yoga mat for another daily workout. I am freaking out. I needn’t bore you with the details, as you likely already have felt the same — the confusion of this all, the uncertainty about the future and the constant washing, as well as the cleaning and cringing any time someone sneezes.

You know what I really don’t need in these times of chaos? Little quotes, packaged to be “uplifting,” that stray a bit too close to the grind culture of capitalism for my liking. I get that you’re trying to be positive, influencers, but please stop telling me which Late Great created which Magnificent Work of Art during quarantine times. I am trying to survive this day by day. Surviving is enough for me and for most of us right now. We should glorify staying sane and caring for ourselves — not pushing creatives to blow our minds.

And I know, I know, your first thought here is probably that I should just stop paying attention to these posts, that I should lay off social media a bit. I’m sorry. But what else is there to do? Even with a day packed full of activities, I can’t avoid the lure of the screen, and I use social media to connect with friends and family I can’t touch right now.

These “inspirational” snippets and tales are everywhere currently. Once you see one, it may stay in your mind for days. Websites and social media alike post about “quarantine routines,” ways to structure your day around productivity. Scrolling through the internet, you’ll feel bad about watching Netflix, you’ll feel bad about not taking up new hobbies, you’ll feel bad about not creating the Next Great American Painting.

For most of America right now, collective mental health is in shambles. If you already have a mental health disorder, it’s even worse. These “positive productivity” posts can have a negative effect on the neurotypical, but they are even worse for those with anxiety or other mental health disorders. The pressure to be productive in daily life is debilitating enough for anyone with clinical anxiety, but this pressure existing during a worldwide pandemic makes symptoms way, way worse.

If you’re chilling on your couch with a bag of Doritos right now, unconvinced, the internet proves my point — anxiety has gotten so bad that multiple institutions, associations, universities and news organizations are publishing content on how to stay calm and not panic about COVID-19. If the general neurotypical population is struggling enough to need this information, imagine what life must be like for neurodivergent folks.

For me, COVID-19 has brought about a resurgence of my worst anxiety symptoms. Heart palpitations, stomach cramps, random crying, an inability to focus on anything other than hypothetical situations where my whole family dies — this is my life now. Before the coronavirus pandemic, I had my mental health under control and was proud of my progress, but now I’ve been forced to take steps back. Trying to manage these symptoms again is hard enough for me — I don’t need people telling me I should be doing more.

Because that’s the underlying tone of all this positivity — that we need to use this time wisely. That we need to be productive, and if we aren’t, we are failing. That sounds suspiciously like the exact brand of capitalism that isn’t doing so well right now in America. Hustle culture. It sounds like the brand of capitalism that, at this moment, is leaving millions of people worried sick about their ability to access food, housing and health care.

Cynthia Pong, founder of Embrace Change, explains it best. “There is a tendency in this country and in Western society and within capitalism,” she said, “to be self-critical, as opposed to being self-compassionate … We have crafted a lot of our feelings of self-worth on achievement, accomplishment and being prolific in stuff that we do. If you take that away, there’s a void. And voids are so hard to deal with.”

What we don’t need right now is more capitalist-grind ideology dressed up as cutesy “positivity” bait. With the amount of people flooding social media to connect, now more than ever, we should focus on creating content and guidelines for basic health and sanity. We should fill this void with something healthier, a lifestyle concerned with the basics, the little pleasures, some compassion for others.

We should post about resources for those in need. We should post about how working together as a country right now, on the ground level, can get us through this. We should post about how the government is mishandling this situation. We should post about the amazing things working class people are doing right now to support each other. We should post in support of our nurses and doctors. Heck, even the handwashing songs on TikTok do more for morale and sanity than yet another person telling me that Shakespeare was working harder than me hundreds of years ago.

There are better ways to be positive and spread awareness. Let’s lean toward those, instead of relying on empty sentiments that push the grind too far in a time where, frankly, we all just deserve to relax.