One Sunday last summer, after a week filled with deadlines and my nights consumed by hosting an out-of-towner, I reclaimed my couch, stayed in my PJs, ordered in, and watched a MasterChef marathon. Then I met two friends for dinner, and my happy, relaxed bubble was promptly burst.
‘You stayed inside all day? It was beautiful out!’ said one friend who’d just run a half-marathon. ‘Aren’t you anxious about starting the week unprepared?’ said the other, who’d used her Sunday to grocery shop, clean her house, and walk the dog. Suddenly, my day of relaxation felt like a day of sloth. It was a classic case of time shaming. We put so much pressure on ourselves to go, go, go, that a day on the couch now feels disgraceful, especially when we see friends turbo-blasting through life, not a minute wasted. You don’t even have to be shamed in person to feel it. On a typical day, my Instagram feed is an endless scroll of friends who toured a museum, completed a mud run, or made a perfect meal. According to a new Pennsylvania State University study, women are actually more stressed at home than they are at work, even if they don’t have kids. I get it. It’s during our weekends that life’s never-ending to-do list looms large.
That oft-Pinned quote, ‘You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé’, is cute and all, but really it’s just a form of personal time shaming. Sure, we have the same hours as Bey, but do we also have a chef, a driver, a stylist, a nanny, and a glam squad? “Women, more than men, are conditioned to feel guilty for not being productive,” says Susan K Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “Or, that when you’re doing one thing, you should be doing another. It’s a very draining mindset.” But Whitbourne points out that when a woman constantly bops from one task to the next, “it can be a sign—if she can’t sit and do nothing—that she might not be comfortable with herself. Checking things off her to-do list is a way to run from herself.”
As long as you’re a generally productive person, it’s good for you to take a break. “Some people need more downtime than others, but it’s extremely important for everyone to self-soothe and take a mental break.”
No, you’re not falling behind. You’re taking care of yourself! The next time you feel like you don’t measure up because you binged on The Big Bang Theory while your friend powered through this year’s entire Pulitzer shortlist, try Whitbourne’s advice: “Self-esteem often comes from meeting your goals, so occasionally make your to-do list have only one item: do nothing.”
This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue of Cosmopolitan India.