Cultivating Balance in a Capitalist World - the four ways capitalism sabotages our well-being

In the relentless pursuit of success and prosperity, the landscape of work has evolved significantly over the years. In the era of modern capitalism, the concept of a healthy work-life balance seems like an elusive dream for most people. The impacts of capitalism on burnout culture are profound, stretching back to the beginning of the industrial revolution and becoming this seemingly unstoppable freight train in the complex and demanding world we face today.

The Historical Unraveling of Work-Life Balance

The seeds of burnout culture were sown in the early days of capitalism, as industrialization swept across the world. The shift from agrarian economies to industrial societies really marked a turning point, where we slowly started to learn to ignore our needs because our life was increasingly dictated by the demands of the clock. Factories made productive machines out of humans and the boundaries between work and personal life blurred, laying the groundwork for the burnout culture we’re faced with today.

The Rise of Modern Capitalism and its Toll

The true rise of modern capitalism, with its emphasis on profit maximization and constant growth, can be traced back to the mid-20th century. Post-World War II, economies were rebuilt, and a new era of consumerism emerged. Corporations, driven by the pursuit of profit, began to prioritize efficiency and productivity above all else because the more that they could produce, the more money that they could make. This shift had profound implications for the workforce, as the pressure to meet these ever-increasing demands continued to intensify.

This leaves us with a number of different factors that are driven by capitalism that can sabotage our stress management efforts if we’re not aware of them. Awareness is always the first step because it’s from a place of knowing what we’re dealing with that we have any chance of mitigating the impact these burnout-inducing aspects of capitalism have on our well being.

Factors Amplifying Stress in the Modern World

  1. Technology and the 24/7 Work Cycle

We’re in a digital age, that’s just a fact, and technology has reshaped the way we live, blurring the lines between professional and personal life. Smartphones, laptops, and tablets started the journey towards being “always available” and the convenience of remote work has also increased the pressure to live up to the expectation to be available around the clock. Emails, messages, and virtual meetings throughout the day, and the constant reminder that work is literally available at our fingertips fosters the constant state of alertness that breeds burnout. Your ability to work whenever wherever leaves that part of your brain, your work brain, always on running in the background – which is especially true for entrepreneurs.

  1. Intense Competition and Job Insecurity

Modern capitalism thrives on competition, and the pressure to outperform each other is trained into us in grade school and just strengthens overtime.You know that phrase “everyone’s replaceable”? It just feeds the feeling of job insecurity, forcing individuals to prove their worth continually. The fear of falling behind or losing one’s job adds a layer of stress that spreads through every aspect of life, eroding the mental and emotional well-being of workers.No wonder you don’t believe yourself when you try saying positive affirmations like “I am enough” when you’re constantly being told you’re not.

  1. Consumerist Culture and Material Expectations

The consumerist culture inherent in modern capitalism fuels a desire for material wealth and status. But the truth is, many are just struggling to survive in modern capitalism just to afford to live – let’s be real. Enough of us are struggling to balance a budget let alone save up for those luxuries that capitalism says we should want. Tied in with the idea of competition, as we strive to keep up with societal expectations and the pressure we and others put on ourselves, the pursuit of success becomes an all-encompassing focus. This unrelenting drive for more not only contributes to burnout but also fosters a sense of emptiness when material gains fail to bring the expected fulfillment.

  1. Lack of Social Safety Nets

One of the most impactful things on the chronic stress levels of individuals is the fact that modern capitalism often neglects the importance of robust social safety nets. The absence of comprehensive healthcare, adequate paid leave, and mental health support places additional burdens on individuals, exacerbating burnout. The fear of financial instability and the lack of a safety net create a breeding ground for stress and exhaustion. Now if our societies don’t provide this support, then naturally it would fall to us as individuals to set up our own safety nets. Which would be doable if minimum wage was a living wage, if inflation didn’t make it next to impossible to afford basic necessities, and if housing security was available to all. But that’s not the way the make-your-own-way-and-pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps modern capitalist society works, is it?

We’re not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm

Now, of course, there’s comfort in knowing that we’re all struggling with the same capitalist induced problems. But the truth is, they affect each of us differently. I saw this saying recently by an unknown author where they wrote “We’re not all in the same boat. We’re in the same storm.” and I think that’s such a powerful way to look at these four main factors of how capitalism affects our experience of stress and burnout.

Some of us have the ability to disconnect from our jobs after the work-day is over because we feel secure enough in our role to do so – while others feel the need to check their phone and answer emails when they wake up at three am and can’t fall back asleep.

Some of us feel fine to come in to work and do what’s asked of us and go home at the end of the day, while others feel the need to be the first to arrive and the last to leave, to always be bringing in more business, or making more sales, or improving something or other. 

Some of us have the ability to save up a bit of money just in case we lose our job or get sick, while others are living paycheck to paycheck.

I’ve been there for all of these scenarios and I can tell you that the low to medium levels of stress that are constantly running through your body are exhausting. Existing is exhausting, and I am aware that I still hold a lot of privileges as a white woman. 

The Path Forward: Cultivating Balance in a Capitalist World

So where do we go from here? How do we face these challenges that capitalism creates, without them inevitably leading to burnout? 

#1. We need to build the skill of setting empathetic boundaries

#2. We need to find the right way for us to prioritize true self-care, not just the disconnected-zone-out-while-you-binge-watch a Netflix series kind of self-care.

#3. We need to start leading by example while advocating for cultural change. Sadly there’s no magic wand to bonk on the heads of the leaders of the world to snap us all out of the capitalist narrative – but you do have the ability to create change in your corner of the world.

#4. We need to bring our values and beliefs back into balance where they’re serving us, rather than sabotaging us. Redefining high achievement, success, and how one views well-being is a great place to start.

So there you have it! By acknowledging the impact of modern capitalism and actively working towards a more balanced and compassionate approach to work-life balance, we can hope to create a future where success is measured not only in economic terms but also in the well-being of individuals and communities.