Reclaim confidence and self-worth: Stop working too hard

Over productivity can be a way to manage anxiety, feelings of low self-worth, and it may be a survival instinct. It can also become a dependency, frequently going hand in hand with stress eating or other harmful habits.


One of the most memorable things that a trainer formerly said to me was that every time we push ourselves, we create a deficit somewhere else. This, I’ve found to be true. We only have a finite amount of energy. Once we’ve used it up, it’s gone, and it needs to be replenished. In the last couple of years, we have had so much cause to use up our energy time and time again. Unfortunately, things are still tough, and many feel hopeless. So, we need to be consistent with our self-care.

In my work as a body-centred psychotherapist, I see this all the time. People push themselves and push themselves, taking on so much that they assume they need to manage. Only to end up in tears, in a stressed state, or with some kind of illness. So, they’re forced to stop.

You can’t underestimate the effects of stress. It’s something that still deserves our compassion, as we exit the pandemic and enter more global difficulty.

Apart from being dangerous for your health, it’s easier to make good decisions from a place of openness and less stress. It’s more possible to be confident, more likely that you’ll be creative, and it leaves room for being able to be more intimate. 

Over productivity tends to shut us down emotionally, which affects our feelings of self-worth. Overwork can also put us into a state of fight or flight, from which it’s hard to slow down.

Do you feel you aren’t doing enough?

Here are some things that might contribute to that nagging feeling you should be doing something:

  1. Our culture. We live in a culture that praises productivity and criticises or misunderstands downtime. Our culture calls it procrastination or laziness. 
  2.  Addiction to productivity. We get a dopamine hit when we achieve a task. The brain can never get enough of this hit. If it's been craved once, it will be craved again and again.
  3. Fear of what will happen if we don’t keep ‘doing’. 
  4. A feeling of not being good enough. 
  5. Worry about not being liked.

Not many people are immune to this. My experience of the early signs of needing to slow down, and take time for joy in life, is a feeling of drudgery. The point at which a list of tasks, or indeed my life, turns into a tiring chore that I soldier on through, is the signal to me that I need more time for myself, for love, or for pleasure.

Might you be working too hard?

Here are some questions to help you identify whether you might be being too productive:

  • Do you feel guilty about ‘wasting time’? If so, what does wasting time mean?
  • Do you often find yourself saying “I’m too busy” ?
  • Are you constantly checking your phone or email?
  • Do you eat anything you can quickly?
  • When you don’t finish the tasks on your list, do you feel bad?
  • Does stress from work keep you awake?
  • Have you been putting off having a break, exercising, hobbies, or socialising because you’re “too busy”?

If this is you, it’s time to wind down, and get your confidence and self-worth back.

Tips for slowing down

1. Start small

Take a few minutes to be quiet at first. See what happens from there. You might be surprised that you like something about it.

2. Reduce your load

Take stock of what you really do need to get done, and prioritise just one thing each day. For instance, if you need more work, focus on doing one thing at a time to get one client or job.

3. Stay in the present

Patrick Banks describes us as being addicted to ‘the next thing’. This is where we are chasing the next hit, be that shopping, emails, tasks, or snacks, all day long. Banks recommends stopping to ask yourself who you are in your life right now, and coming to a place of admitting what you’re not satisfied with. If the thought of not having the one thing that you feel you require (comfort food? One more task? That gadget on Amazon?) is depressing, be curious about what in your life makes it so important?

4. Instead of chasing a dopamine hit, observe your resistance or discomfort

Be curious about what’s going on for you. When your heart is racing and your teeth clench from ploughing through your next adrenalin-fuelled task, be curious about what’s happening to you, and what happens if you stop. Watch what your nervous system does, your thoughts, and your emotions. It may not be favourable.

So hold it with giant amounts of kindness and curiosity. Be curious about what it is your resistance is trying to protect you from, and let that speak. Here you are literally building the brain pathway of inner resources instead of having to rely on something external to make you happy.

5. Overestimate time

Often, the people I work with are people who cram all kinds of things in before our sessions, and into everything they do. Instead, deliberately overestimate time. Give yourself time to wait before any appointment. We typically underestimate the time we need or procrastinate, then end up rushing. So, plan in extra time. Again, you might find that uncomfortable. Be curious.

6. Get comfortable in your own skin

I take it as a compliment that I’ve got a client who starts yawning as soon as she gets on the phone to me. This is a place I’d like to help you get to too. It’s all about becoming more comfortable in your own skin, instead of being motivated by fear, reliance, or guilt. It’s said that everything we do is motivated by survival. So, be curious what that means in terms of your productivity. What fear are you responding to in your drive to get the work done, constantly?

7. Learn how to relax

It might sound stupidly simple, but this is something we actually need to be taught sometimes. There's plenty of help on how to do this on the internet. Make this your project!

Moving forward

In this article, I’ve given you some ideas of what might motivate you to be overproductive. I gave you some questions to help you identify whether you might be being too productive, and therefore headed for a fall. I finished with some suggestions for how to approach becoming less productive, slowing down and relaxing. 

One of my much-loved clients once said: “Every moment we have the choice of whether to close down or to open up.”

It’s easy, as a human being, to be pulled unconsciously from one comfort, task, habit, tradition, expectation, or dopamine hit, to the next. The road less travelled is making a conscious choice over and over again to open up to the bigger vibrancy of being human.

Unless your default is security, confidence and love, you have to consciously make this choice over and over again. Sometimes we have grown up with the belief that we should not feel anything. But, allowing feeling, also allows love, confidence, creativity, freedom, and joy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, Somerset, BS4 2DS
Written by Shelley Treacher, Therapy for anxiety, depression & relationship difficulties.
Bristol, Somerset, BS4 2DS

Shelley Treacher 'Underground Confidence' BACP Accred. "Having experienced and overcome chronic worry, loneliness and comfort eating myself, I now empower you through the process. I support people from around the World through claiming self-worth, recovering from comfort eating, and regaining love, with conviction, from your body's core."

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