Hustle Culture and the Importance of Rest with Guest Dr. Janelle Peifer

This week Dr. Janelle Peifer joins the Mental Health Mamas to talk about the challenges of "hustle culture", the importance of finding time to rest and how taking time for yourself can be even more challenging for people of color and other historically marginalized folks. Dr. Peifer is a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Richmond and brings a wealth of personal and professional experience to the conversation.

Notes and Mentions

"Why Are Vacations So Stressful?" by Dr. Janelle Peifer Visit Dr. Peifer?s website: Alternative to calling 988:

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Tina: Hi everyone, I'm Tina

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Tina: We come to not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website,

Tina: I am so very lucky to have for nearly all of my life grown up in or near college towns with super interesting people studying lots of interesting topics. And today's guest is one of those very interesting people who I met last year. She and I connected over our common interest, and she was someone who I felt a strong connection with. I think she might agree with that. Dr. Janelle Peifer is a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Richmond. She earned her PhD at the University of Virginia in Clinical and School Psychology. Janelle, welcome to the podcast.

Janelle: Ah, Tina and Serena, thank you so much for having me. I?m glad you think that I?m interesting!

Tina: So interesting and fun too you?re fun too. So just a little note about some resources that we've talked about before we start today's podcast for all the listeners out there in the United States. We wanted to make sure to mention the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline that was initiated over the summer.

Serena: Yes, so you can call or text 988 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor who can help you of your experiencing mental health related distress. This could include thoughts of suicide, mental health, or substance use crisis or any other kind of emotional distress.

Tina: The lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to anyone living anywhere in the US and you can call for yourself or you can call for someone else that you're worried about. And Janelle, we're gonna have you pipe in here about your expertise when it comes to 988. Tell us a little more about that.

Janelle: Oh, yes, yeah, thank you. And 988 is a wonderful resource and I always like to add in as a supplement, the website It's helpful for folks to know that 988 is accessible. They have wonderful connections. But for some folks, they like to have options that are more local to their community and that don't involve the possibility of police intervention. So I just like to always throw that out there. It's as another resource.

Serena: Thanks, Janelle. We will make sure we include that in all of our resources so that people can check that out for themselves. It's an important resource to add. So you really caught my eye this summer when Tina forwarded an article you wrote on vacations. And this article starts off by saying, ?vacations play a significant role in mental health and well-being by releasing neurochemicals that make the experience feel pleasant. But taking one can actually be extremely difficult.?

Tina: So before we launch into the article, tell us a bit of your story, Janelle, and how you came to study what you're studying.

Janelle: Yes, so when it comes to what I study, first of all, it's helpful to know. I'm particularly interested in the idea of trauma complex PTSD and well-being generally. But I especially focus on what that looks like in historically marginalized folks. So looking at black and other people of color for folks who are on the LGBTQ spectrum, neurodiverse individuals, I'm very much so interested in the experience of how people are able to engage with and contend with a lot of potential trauma, stress and move from disconnection to thriving. So of course, this article has really been formed by my interest and what does it look like to take care of yourself to the point of doing something that for many of us is often thought to be a luxury that may or may not be for us. So I definitely took that lens and my background and interest as a clinician as a scholar showed up in this article.

Serena: So let's just launch right into it. Tell our listeners about this article and let's dig into the complexities of being able to take that ever important break.

Janelle: I mean, now more than ever, I think this was the summer of the return to vacationing. I definitely, I don't know about y'all's social media feed but it was showing up and seeing the sort of, the cathartic impact that a vacation can have, the ability to take this immersive time to yourself and to change gears from often operating in a state of constant productiveness, the state of constantly being on and what does it look like to vacation, to take time to yourself? And one of the things that I really wanted to highlight in the article and normalize was the complexity of emotions that can show up when you take a vacation before you're going while you're there and also the return to the quote unquote real world then what ends up happening emotionally and psychologically when we try to take a much needed break and oftentimes that we experience emotions that we're not necessarily expecting for something that we've been hoping for for a long time.

Serena: So, Janelle, did you take a vacation this summer?

Janelle: I did.

Serena: Okay.

Janelle: It was incredible.

Serena: Okay. Tell us more!

Janelle: Well, I mean, it was, I think that writing this article was actually really helpful for me framing and preparing for the vacation. I did a road trip with my family across the United States and we were really able to develop a trip that was focused on like protection of time for us to be together immersively. We, the parts of it that felt so sweet were the aspects that tend to be much more difficult to maintain in my day to day life. Like we had our meals together, all of our meals together. We had the ability while we were driving to like my partner and I were able to talk in depth like we were dating again, like having expansive periods of time to talk about our interests and what we're feeling, what our goals are in different ways. And then to rest like we were able to do things that were about enjoyment and our experiences of being together as opposed to the necessity of just trying to survive, which was a total shift, especially on, you know, the heels of this ongoing pandemic that was, that was so all consuming. And so suffocating on some level.

Tina: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so let's go there. So I would say I have, vicariously been a part of this college professor scene for a really long time, total witness, not a professor. But I, in fact, people often say to me, so do you have a PhD? And I think, oh, well, I kind of do. Yes, and I don't want one because I've seen it happen and I don't want one. But it sounds to me, and this is just how I, maybe you don't think about it like this, but I definitely think about it like this. It sounds like there's a constant need to hustle. And you mentioned in the article, especially so for black women and other women of color. Describe kind of seeing this high achieving black women in your practice who receive messages in their childhood. And I'm going to quote from your article that, ?they need to work twice as hard to earn half as much and that slipping up for a moment could mean losing everything. For those who had traumatic childhoods or grew up and impoverished environments, taking time for yourself can feel foreign, uncomfortable, and like something overtly indulgent.? So say more about that, can you personally relate to that?

Janelle: I wish I couldn't relate to it. Right. And I think that it is embedded in so much of the socialization and the messaging that we receive about, you know, and like you pointed to, there are these several nested social experiences that might inform that feeling. For me, it's academia and the hustle culture in higher education, but we know that it's present across multiple fields and disciplines and it may even be sort of the norm societally now, the expectation that you are constantly doing to produce more, to be able to even survive, that you have to be on in a way that can be really exhausting. So I wholly relate to that. And then when you add on the additional layer of being the only or one of few in the room, there is that sense of the spotlight effect like this feeling that your performance is monitored, that you're representing a broad group that you feel the responsibility to. You know, my parents are Moorehouse and Spelman grads, so I definitely was instilled with the lift as you climb, like a philosophy that's really embedded within, you know, historically black universities.

But as we think about that, that comes with a strain. You're trying to lift as you climb. You're trying to chart a path. You're trying to be like undeniable in your work within an environment that's categorized by already having a significantly high expectation. So the idea of a vacation, especially I'm pre-tenure, right? So I'm in the crunch zone of trying to kind of prove my worth for the institution to want to keep me, that it feels like an indulgence that often seems that it's not for me or not for us, that it's something that is risky to do.

Tina: It's a hustle. It is a hustle. It really is a hustle. And yeah, and I appreciate your perspective because as a white woman, I do not experience the same things that other people do, right? I'm in my skin and I try to understand. I don't know what a black woman feels like. I don't know what a Hispanic woman feels like. I don't know. So, and I'm hoping I'm using all the right terms when I'm saying all this. Do we say Hispanic anymore? Do we say Latino, Latino, Latinx?

Janelle: I mean, it really depends. And I think, so I think that even acknowledging there's huge breadth of different terminologies. Some people use Latine, because Latinx has a gender and neutral, like doesn't necessarily translate in Spanish, but it's really dependent. But I think that you're mainly talking about how you own your lens and perspective. And I recognize that there's a plurality of different ways that people experience this.

Tina: Well, exactly. And that's what I found so refreshing about your article is just with something that I didn't think about in the same way. Now, I can relate to some of it having, again, lived in these college environments. So, yeah.

Janelle: Yeah, definitely, yeah.

Serena: And so here's another piece from your article that you talk about. And that's the idea that people are more likely to get sick during a vacation. And this I have experienced, unfortunately.

Tina: Me as well.

Serena: And more than one fact, total nightmare. So, what is that about?

Janelle: Yeah. So, I mean, one of the things that, and I try to say in the article that this is something that I don't fully, this is at the edge of my area of expertise, you know, somebody with more background in this would be able to describe the mechanism of action much more effectively than I can.

But what we do know is that there's a relationship between cortisol and the functioning of your immune system. And the sudden drop in cortisol often kind of gives your body permission to let go in a way where if you have been in this state where you've been in survival mode and you may not even be attending fully to how you're feeling. When you have the space and time and your body is out of fight or flight, we recognize that there tends to be a boost in sickness like around that time. So that going to vacation and finally having a cortisol drop can actually show up and increase in feeling sick and getting sick.

Tina: Yeah, so I was saying we experienced this. My husband's a professor as well. And the holidays were often a time when he would get sick because he could, right? I mean, because he was letting his guard down, he wasn't, I don't know, whatever it is, chemically. It just, it happened. So I found that very interesting. So we are interviewing you as a professional so far. But we know and we want our listeners to know that you have human side, all guests have human sides and you are a mama. And I can imagine that you wrote this with some solid advice that you might take yourself. So tell our listeners, give us a little, here's some tips from a personal perspective.

Janelle: Oh, of course. And this is one of the things that I love about being a clinical psychologist. Because oftentimes when I'm staying to my clients is what I need to hear, too.

Tina: That?s why we do our podcast,

Janelle: I'm like, can't be a hypocrite. So I guess if I've told them that self-care boundaries are important, and I'm going to wrap top away, right? And so I think that some of the advice that I myself even took before I went on my vacation this summer, and it was a good organizing framework is being able to prepare for the vacation, like noticing that coming into a vacation, beginning to do some work to reflect on what are your goals for the vacation? What are your needs? What is it representing for you? Is this something where you need to just be able to be unplugged? Do you need space and time for creativity and curiosity and exploration? What is harder to maintain in the day-to-day life? And almost doing some pre-planning for the vacation to begin to set some attention around that.

And also right at the same time, being able to put some of the logistical pieces in place that are going to make your vacation more free and open to attend to that. So being able to do expectations setting with the people around you that you're going to be gone, right? And making sure that you have the boundaries in place to protect that time. And I also underscored the temptation to do overwork before going into a vacation to almost feel like you have to make up for it. And I think that plays right into the hands of the feeling that you need to do something to earn rest and be willing to be worthy of rest, which I'm in the process of dismantling for myself as well, that part of the vacation is not having to do more to be able to deserve it or make up for it on the front or back end.

And then when you're actually there, just normalizing for yourself the adjustment process that if you are sitting out on the beach and you're having a lot of should-based language about what you should be feeling and you're here and why is it hard to be joyful that you've been looking forward to this trip for so long, just being gentle and present with what comes up and recognizing that it's totally normative to have difficulty changing gears and giving yourself some time and practices that might help you as you're shifting gears, whether that's like being able to do some meditation or mindfulness or stretching or exercise or journaling that just being able to be gentle with yourself during that period and being able to give yourself some time just like fully experience and present to it.

And then on the back end, when you return not punishing yourself for taking time, right? There is the temptation to feel like you owe people squeezing in more meetings because you were out or trying to do double the work to make up for it, which then almost feels like it negates the space that you created through the vacation and almost creates an aversive loop that every time that you go on vacation, you have the sphere of what's gonna happen when you come back, but instead of like, yeah, knowing people letting your vacation responder stay on it for a couple more days, clearing your calendar for when you come back because you know you're gonna need some more time in your schedule to catch up on tasks that were very importantly put to the side and kind of putting those structures in place so that, yeah, you aren't being punished for doing something that you deserve, right?

Tina: So if I weren't your friend and I didn't know you personally, I'd be signing up for to sit on your couch. You have some really good suggestions, we appreciate it. And we're curious if there's anything we haven't asked you today that you wanna put out there to the world.

Janelle: Oh, I mean, I just, I would love to end with an encouragement that in wherever you are and whatever you're doing, making space for yourself, being able to put that vacation on your calendar, even if it's a staycation and you're just staying in your room and you're going to order some door dash, right? That the idea of the practice of exploring and really thinking into what your needs are and identifying and protecting time for it is a sacred and wonderful act. And it's one that I know that we're often told that we can't do, but I encourage you to do it. If nobody has given you permission today, let that be me.

Tina: Hmm, awesome.

Serena: Thank you for that. So Janelle, thank you so much for joining us today. And sharing with us all this valuable important information about taking a break.

Janelle: Of course, thank you for having me.

Serena: And so podcast friends, we are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. We know that there are literally millions of things that they're trying to get your attention and we really appreciate that you've chosen to spend this time with us. And you can help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts, leave us a review, subscribe, and please share our podcast with others. You'll find more content on our website,

Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks for listening.

Tina: Bye.