Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer Stress

Combating Internalized Capitalism

A few weeks ago, I spent most of the day in bed, mentally unable to move except to eat. I was working on an article for Mason’s student newspaper, Fourth Estate, and I hated it. I’m always very critical of my writing, but this felt different. It felt like all the joy had been zapped out of writing, something I’d always been so passionate about. 

I spent that day crying off-and-on because I desperately want to take a break from writing for Fourth Estate, but I felt so guilty for wanting that. I still haven’t even quit because I’m terrified of how I will be perceived by my peers, professors and future employers. That night, I even called my mom because I desperately needed confirmation that it was okay to quit, that it didn’t mean I had failed. 

It’s not like writing for the newspaper is the only thing I do. Far from it. But society has taught me that I always need to do more. In this capitalistic economy, our value is based on our productiveness, our contribution to the system. And it’s so easy to internalize that. Soon, our self-worth revolves around productivity, social status, insane expectations of involvement, income and material goods. 

This article was supposed to be about something else entirely. But in the middle of the week, PMS hit me like a truck and my mental health took a beating from a growing list of assignments. So on Friday as I was scrambling to put something together, I broke down again. It was nearly one o’clock in the morning and I hated everything I had written. But every time I wanted to just walk away and go to bed, I told myself that I was a failure, that not writing that article would mean that I failed. 

So I decided to write about that feeling with the hope of achieving some kind of catharsis. But in a larger sense, to also hold myself accountable in reevaluating the capitalistic values I personally buy into. Especially since I’ve noticed my internalized capitalism growing stronger during the pandemic. My motivation has been low, but my guilt for being unproductive has been quite the opposite. It’s exhausting to be constantly stuck in the middle of that tug-of-war. Even on my days off, I feel the need to be productive in order to be valued.

Related: A Personal Reflection: How Isolation During COVID Taught Me About Productivity Culture

As a college student, I’ve also heard people almost bragging about pulling all-nighters because it meant they were busy, which society equates with success. My freshman-year roommate would stay up until four o’clock in the morning doing work, work crazy hours and do a million other things. I remember constantly comparing myself to her because I’d be in bed by 10. 

But we shouldn’t normalize that kind of exhaustion. 

Human beings are not designed to run 24/7. Our bodies and minds need us to take care of them to keep us running and healthy. Being stressed out 24/7, 365 isn’t something we should be forced to feel proud of. Burnout isn’t a prize. Quitting isn’t a personal failure. 

And while capitalism likely won’t be going away anytime soon (unfortunately), you can change your own internalized capitalism. If you feel like your productivity is more important than taking care of yourself and your mental health or feel guilty about taking a break, take a second to think about why. It isn’t a failure on your part, but a failure on society. 

You’re allowed to set boundaries for yourself. Turn off your email notifications after 5 p.m., unfollow people on social media who promote hustle culture, take time to do something every day that makes you genuinely happy. 

Remember, collegiettes, your mental health and happiness should always come first, not productivity.