Capitalist productivity culture leads to stress, creates unrealistic expectations

Art+by+Lorelai+Dohm

Art by Lorelai Dohm

Zay Yontz, Features Editor

From a young age, I always felt productivity was a focal point in my life. Even while growing up through elementary and middle school, I consistently felt the burden of feeling the need to be doing something all the time. Whether it was reading or doing some sort of homework, I felt I couldn’t take a break unless I knew for a fact that there wasn’t something else needing to be done, like studying for a quiz instead of watching a movie.

Towards the end of my freshman year, I began to feel extremely overwhelmed in a way that I had not yet experienced. I remember scrolling through TikTok, watching people study for hours and questioning why I wasn’t doing the same. I began setting unrealistic goals for myself and not setting out any downtime. These expectations were further validated when I got a job earlier this year. With an influx of workload, I didn’t change my routine to match events that arose like family problems, a part-time job and harder classes in my life. I was so obsessed with being productive that I began to lose motivation. When finals week came around last semester, I found myself in a state of constant anxiety. I vividly remember getting home from work at 10 p.m. on a school night and sitting at my dining room table working on a homework assignment for AP World History, and falling asleep in the middle of reading a book. For many years I thought the only way to be successful was to drown myself in tasks that were never fully achievable because they were extremely unrealistic. My self-worth was dependent on my productivity, which caused me to question my mental health and essentially everything else in my life. My social life began to diminish as I prioritized work and school. Although it is good to keep school in high standards, without a healthy balance of work and rest, the meaning of the results became less valuable to me. My parents never  expected me to get good grades or have everything under full control , but it felt like the person putting the most pressure on me was myself.

Capitalism forced me to internalize a work-centric mindset even when there was nothing for me to do. My free time became weaponized against me and as I started to procrastinate more, guilt filled my mind because I believed I didn’t work hard enough.”

I struggled to find what I could do to make myself more productive. Eventually I came to the realization that the root of my problems wasn’t necessarily that I wasn’t productive enough, but because of the way American society has pushed the agenda of productivity culture for centuries. Capitalist ideologies have cultivated a glorified mindset of individualism that forced me to isolate myself. It continued to have an impact in my life as I used social media more the older I got. I thought I had complete control over my life and I wasn’t able to balance myself in a “productive” way. Capitalism forced me to internalize a work-centric mindset even when there was nothing for me to do. My free time became weaponized against me and as I started to procrastinate more, guilt filled my mind because I believed I didn’t work hard enough. Even in the past few months, the same feelings have been present in my life, and I have struggled to grasp how to fix them. The persistent pressure from overworking myself caused me to feel a sense of existential dread. By looking at school and work from a different, more understanding perspective, I am able to cope with the workload and better my mental health. Instead of forcing myself to always be doing something, I try to focus on each day at hand and work on things I can actively control like cleaning my room, rather than creating unrealistic expectations. Instead of attempting to write an essay in one night, I try to set out an adequate amount of time to become less overwhelmed.

Although I am not able to fully remove myself from this toxic environment of productivity, looking forward, I can recognize the problems of my previous mindset and make a change by dedicating more time for myself and valuing myself separate from my productivity.

Have you experienced capitalist productivity culture? Let us know in the comments below.