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Psychological and Physiological Effects of Hustle Culture

What is hustle culture?

Hustle culture is a social standard where one can only succeed if they overexert and work themselves to the max capacity. Hustle culture is perpetuated by social media and sets unrealistic standards of productivity and meaningful work. This social standard puts unnecessary stress on people. It often leads to burn-out as social status is associated with the amount of work done and encourages the neglect of having a personal life outside of work.

Image is courtesy of Wix.

Psychological effects of hustle culture

Long-working hours elevate the risk of poor mental health, such as depressive symptoms, worsened emotional well-being, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. This leads to work disability and reduced quality of life. A study done in China among various employees (white-collar workers, blue-collar workers, service personnel, and self-employed industrialists) assessed rates of depression and the subjects' overall mental well-being. This was done through a questionnaire in which respondents were asked to rate their overall health on a scale ranging from 1 to 5 (1 being very poor and 5 being very good). The rating scale is the World Health Organization's five-item Well-Being Index, called the WHO-5. The questionnaire also collected data on living and working conditions, hobbies and leisure activities, weekly working hours (WWH), and sociodemographic characteristics.

The study found that the mean score for the WHO-5 questionnaire was significantly higher among workers who had hobbies. The mean score decreased with increasing weekly working hours, regardless of whether the individual had a hobby. Furthermore, working over 60 hours per week was an independent risk factor for depression and poor mental well-being. The findings suggested that long work hours resulted in "a shortage of sleep and time to 'recover or repair' from the demands of a job, making workers more vulnerable to worsening time available for other leisure-related activities or personal hobbies."

Mental health in physicians

A cross-sectional study done at various primary, secondary, and tertiary hospitals in China found a correlation between physician burnout and increased medical errors. The workload was measured through work hours per week and the number of daily service patients, as shown in the graph below.

Image is courtesy of Pubmed.

Overall, working greater than 45 hours per week was associated with increased burnout symptoms in physicians, which was associated with increased mistakes in their work. Medical mistakes included instances where the patient was harmed, medication errors, treatment delays, and incomplete or incorrect items in the patient’s record.

Physiological effects of hustle culture

A sample of subjects was taken from Europe, Japan, Korea, China to study the physiological effects of hustle culture. Those working more than 50 hours per week were found to have increased cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease risks, such as myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease.

Long working hours can cause increased blood pressure and heart rate due to psychological over-activation and stress. It also contributes to insulin resistance, arrhythmia, hyper-coagulation, and ischemia among individuals who already have a high atherosclerotic burden and compromised glucose metabolism (diabetes). The risk of Atrial Fibrillation also increases with working 55 hours or more per week. Atrial fibrillation is the irregular rhythm of the heart, which causes blood to pool in the left atrial chamber and can cause clot formation, which can then result in a stroke.

Those working more than 60 hours per week experienced an increase in occupational injuries. Furthermore, Japanese residents who worked 80 to 99.9 hours per week had a 2.83% greater risk of developing depression, and those working 99.9+ hours per week had an even higher risk, at 6.96%. These conditions caused subjects to turn to unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, consuming alcohol, and being physically inactive.

Another study examined PVT Lapses among subjects. PVT is a psychomotor vigilance test that tests reaction time. Over the span of 10-minutes, participants are asked to respond as quickly as possible to stimuli that appear at random 2-10 second intervals. Performance is quantified by lapses, AKA response times.

Below are some terms that are referred to in the study.

  • Vigilant attention: "the ability to maintain stable, focused attention across a certain time interval.”

  • Vigilant decrement: "a decline in timely or correct responses across the duration of a vigilant attention performance task."

  • Homeostatic process: “serves to balance time spent awake with time spent asleep by building up a pressure for sleep across time spent awake, and dissipating that pressure across time spent sleep.”

  • Homeostatic pressure: the pressure to sleep; this increases vigilant attention deficits across time spent awake.

In the graph below, the grey blocks indicate time spent sleeping. The red line indicates someone who was awake for long periods of time, and the blue line represents someone who slept periodically. As you can see, the PVT lapses were much shorter for those who slept often. This means that their response times were faster, therefore having greater vigilant attention and less vigilant decrement. These findings make sense when we consider the homeostatic process and homeostatic pressure.

Image is courtesy of NCBI.


All in all, research shows that hustle culture can really take over people's lives. Productivity is always praised, but there comes the point when it's absolutely crucial to prioritize physical and mental well-being. The effects of burnout are quite pronounced, and unfortunately, it is occurring among more and more people. Try to take time for yourself today, and strive to lead a balanced life every day.


Griffith, E. (2019, January 26). Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work? (Published 2019). The New York Times.

Hudson, A. N., Van Dongen, H. P. A., & Honn, K. A. (2019). Sleep deprivation, vigilant attention, and brain function: a review. Neuropsychopharmacology, 45(1), 21–30.

Virtanen, M., & Kivimäki, M. (2018). Long Working Hours and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. Current Cardiology Reports, 20(11).

Wen, J., Cheng, Y., Hu, X., Yuan, P., Hao, T., & Shi, Y. (2016). Workload, burnout, and medical mistakes among physicians in China: A cross-sectional study. BioScience Trends, 10(1), 27–33.

Wong, K., Chan, A. H. S., & Ngan, S. C. (2019). The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(12), 2102.

Article authors: Ashley Chen, Sherilyn Wen

Article editor: Stephanie Sahadeo


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