Our Latest Blogs

Urgency Culture: On the Go or on the Nerve?

busy mother on phone with children

What is Urgency Culture?

In the digital age, there has been a societal shift in our common ideas about productivity and leisure. As a psychotherapist, I find that my clients believe they must always be doing something in order to feel worthwhile or content. This phenomenon is commonly known as ‘urgency culture,’ which is the notion that we must always be hustling to achieve our personal goals and be available 24/7 for work, family, and friends.

Urgency culture has its roots in social media (what’s everyone else doing?) and the notion that things are scarce (i.e., money, time). We don’t live forever, so that means that time is of the essence; what we do counts for something. The problem occurs when we blur the line between what urgently needs our attention at the moment and what does not.

What Is Actually Important versus Urgent

The purpose of this article is to encourage you to start thinking about the urgent versus the important but not urgent tasks of your daily life so you can use your time effectively and in a healthy manner. Important tasks might look like paying bills and grocery shopping versus urgent matters such as answering a call from a sick family member. Someone who struggles with anxiety might urgently need to fill out her time sheet so she can get paid but might find that answering emails can be put off until later. What’s important will undoubtedly vary from person to person, depending on their goals, culture, career, and many other factors, but as a rule of thumb, you can think of urgent tasks as meeting deadlines.

Negative Effects of Urgency Culture

Living a life that fits into what society deems important and urgent can come at a cost to your personal identity. As you can imagine, this contributes to anxiety, irritability, stress, and burnout. Social media is a big enabler of urgency culture, as its principal features include letting followers know what’s going on and constantly looking at what everyone else is doing. Comparisons are inevitable. You see others excelling at careers, traveling the world, getting engaged, married, or forming a family, and suddenly you begin to question if you’re doing this life thing right.

Have you felt the pressure of urgency culture? You can ask yourself if thoughts such as “they won’t consider me a good friend if I don’t make plans to see them” or “I’m lazy if I don’t answer this work email right now” have crossed your mind. If so, chances are urgency culture is trying to get a hold of you. Over time we come to believe that to not feel victimized by these thoughts, we must obey them. As this pattern continues, we get to a point where we are unhappy.

None of us is exempt from this. I realized that when I was caught up in the demands of my adult life, I ended up neglecting the bookworm identity I developed as a child when I often lost an afternoon to a C.S. Lewis novel. After the many nights completing papers in graduate school and dedicating myself to seeking licensure as a psychotherapist by seeing clients full-time, I found myself wondering when was the last time I read a book for pleasure. I had fallen victim to ‘adulting‘ and its byproduct, urgency culture.

How to Combat Urgency Culture and Win

Some of you reading this might think that urgency is what brings food to the table or turns dreams into realities. However, if we become hyper-focused and group all things under the urgent category, we might drown in these tasks, neglecting other equally meaningful parts of our identity. This can lead to dissatisfaction with one’s self or life. Finding a middle ground and balancing your time to fulfill each part of your identity is a way to cope with this pressure.

Here are 3 strategies for overcoming urgency culture and empowering your authentic self:

1. Find the truth behind your thoughts

Take the example of feeling like a lazy employee for not answering that email right away. Are you measuring your worthiness as an employee solely on email response time and minimizing the other ways you excel in your job? When you have these recurring thoughts, use the THINK acronym and ask yourself the following:

Is this thought True?

Is this thought Helpful?

Is this thought Inspiring?

Is this thought Necessary?

Is this thought Kind?

2. Set Healthy Boundaries

To learn what boundaries you need to set, create a list of your daily habits throughout the week (e.g., social media use, socializing, exercise, work-related correspondence, etc.). This will help you look at how you spend your time so you can reorganize your life to reflect your values and priorities.

In doing this exercise with a past client during a therapy session, my client realized that they spent over an hour answering questions for coworkers after their shift, which often meant they did not make it home in time to tuck their kids into bed. This parent believes quality time with their children is important and getting to see them before bed is urgent. While providing feedback to coworkers might be important, it was often not urgent. This client’s new boundary looks something like:

I will no longer answer questions after my shift is over. Instead, I’ll set a specific time in the daytime for this task.”

The truth is boundaries are necessary to maintain healthy relationships. Without healthy boundaries, resentment builds and leads to conflict and unhappiness. Communicate your boundaries to employers, coworkers, friends, and family with assertiveness and kindness. Separate your personal identity from your identity as an employee, student, partner, or family member. What do you love to do that brings you joy, peace, and tranquility?

3. Observe your emotions

The purpose of observing your emotions is to learn that it is okay for them to be there. Just because we feel guilty does not mean we must do something to relieve the guilt at that moment (such as answering a text, email, or call). Try to observe when certain negative feelings, such as pressure or guilt, begin to overwhelm you. As you observe your emotions, you can ask yourself questions like:

“What sensation does this emotion create in my body?”

 “Is the texture bumpy or fuzzy?” 

“What color is it?”

This practice helps you separate yourself from the sensations and make room for unpleasant emotions instead of pushing them away. Combining this mental strategy with deep breathing can be quite soothing as you imagine your breath going in, around, and throughout the sensation.

Practicing these 3 strategies can help you gain a healthy control over the scarcity of your time and energy while allowing space for you to flourish as the unique person you are. While social media can be a space to interact and share creativity, it can also lead us to make distorted comparisons between ourselves and others. Remember that at the end of the day, things aren’t always what they seem.


About the Author: Maria Morales has been devoted to the mental health field for the last 10 years. She received her Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and Wellness from New York University and has since worked with teens and adults suffering from anxiety, trauma, and depression. Maria is passionate about understanding societal trends and the impact they have on our collective mental health. To work with Maria to improve your mental health, please visit https://www.feelinggoodcenter.com/

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

Recommended for You

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *