You get home on Friday night, drop into a chair, and don’t want to move. You don’t want to cook anything “proper”. You’re excited to sit in front of the TV and become a mindless zombie, not caring what it is your watching so long as it doesn’t require brain power.
Or else, you care intensely what you’re doing, wishing, in fact, you could just walk to the post office and send that package, or vacuum the whole house because you know it’s been weeks but you just keep putting if off.
Your to-do list never gets any shorter, even when you know some of the tasks on it are so easy to complete.
Burnout affects us all differently. For some, it’s a paralysing feeling which leaves us unable to complete any of the tasks we have before us. For others, we can tick a hundred things off our list, but never the right stuff. Some can’t sleep, others crash as soon as they stop moving. People stop eating properly, struggle to take care of themselves, and have frequent emotional outbursts.
It was disheartening, as I started to research a little for this post, to see so many articles about burnout. There’s an intense focus on students, graduates, and millennials, and the way stress is affecting them.
Whilst a lot of media frequently dismisses the concerns of younger generations, considering them lazy, entitled, and ignorant as to the way the world works, burnout – a very real form of stress – is being experienced by young people across the globe.
In a 2018 YouGov survey, it was found that just 7 percent of young adults hadn’t felt overwhelmed or unable to cope due to stress in the last year.
Take a moment to re-read that sentence.
Now think about your own stress levels over the past year.
I hate dismissing or generalising about age groups (in every direction). And I sometimes feel like my generation are too harsh to those who have come before us. Yes, the world has changed and in some ways is incomparable to life 50 years ago, but there’s still a lot they can teach us and statements such as ‘life is more stressful than it ever has been’ don’t help the situation. Stress can’t be quantified or regulated across the board. What makes one person stressed may not make another stressed, and the things that we struggle with today may not have even existed 50 years ago.
What I’m struggling to get across is that comparing is difficult. Race, class, wealth, education, health, hell – even memory, are all things that distort our understanding of stress levels across the generations.
But with all that being said…Why are so many young people experiencing burnout?
Pushing Too Hard
“60% of 18-24-year olds and 41% of 25-34-year olds reported the pressure to succeed as a stressor, compared to just 6% of people aged 55+.”
– Stress: Are We Coping? Research Report, 2018
Through education, we’re told that our success is related to a number.
That’s the aim, that’s always what we’re heading for. Doesn’t matter the subject, whether you’re interested in it or not, you’re told 100% is what that class wants from you.
University is known for being a place of extremes. Work hard, party hard. Maybe the reason people party so hard at university is because somewhere in our head, we have the wild notion that if we’re not aiming for 100% we shouldn’t be bothering. That anything less than giving it our all means we might as well be failing anyway.
It’s hard not to carry this attitude into the world of work. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, transitioning from a world where everything is graded and you constantly have another assignment to aim for, into a world where you’re fairly free and nobody is constantly assessing every piece of work you do is hard.
A Balancing Act
Work is the obvious source of stress; no matter what line of work you’re in there are times when you’ll be so busy, so up to your eyeballs in things you don’t know how to deal with that you just want to shut yourself in the stationary cupboard and have a good cry. Or shout. Both tend to work.
Sometimes you can get through this with the help of your colleagues, sometimes you just keep going until you’ve ticked everything off, and sometimes you feel like you don’t know the people you work with well enough yet to tell them exactly how stressed you are so you just get on with all the work in an awful mood pretending everything is fine (guilty!).
But it’s not just work that can stress us out. Cancel culture, environmental concerns, rising political tensions, and a world that seems less hopeful by the day are all affecting the way we live.
Burnout appears to be simply a symptom of modern life. So many young people are experiencing it without having the ability to stop, take stock, and re-evaluate. If we pause to thinking about the fact we are burnt-out, burning ourselves into the ground, what happens to all the things we’re balancing?
This is no way to live at all. Feeling constantly worn out and unable to complete basic tasks means we push ourselves into working harder than ever without ever enjoying ourselves, without feeling as if we ever really achieve anything.
This way of life can only lead to worse mental health problems, long-term unhappiness, and dissatisfaction. I’m as guilty as everyone else for pushing myself too hard and dismissing my own need for breaks. Which also means, sadly, I don’t know what the solution is. I do, however, have this to offer…
Some Tips For Handling Burnout
Advocate for Yourself
This is by far the thing I find hardest when it comes to handling my stress. I’m one of those people who will happily take on another person’s workload if they can’t handle it, never mind the fact I’m already behind with my own work and actually kind of need help to do some of it.
Knowing yourself and your limits is just as important as being able to tell people whether you are able to complete a task for them.
Admit When You Don’t Know Something
It’s hard to admit, but you don’t (and never will) know everything there is to know about something. Even if you’re the world expert, there’s going to be something you aren’t yet aware of.
You are right at the beginning of your career. There is no shame in admitting you don’t know how to do something and asking for help. It’s better than suffering in silence, trust me.
Don’t Try to Please Everybody
Another hard one to face up to. Stop saying yes just to please other people.
If you find this one hard I have some advice for you: ask yourself if this will matter in a weeks time…in a months time…in a years time. Is you saying no right now going to have an effect that will last? Or does it just mean you get a little more time to focus on what you already have going on?
Make ‘You’ Time
Self-care has become massive online in the last couple of years, but it cannot be said enough. Looking after yourself is important. You’re allowed to take days where all you do is watch TV, make yourself dinner, and ignore everyone who texts you. Just make sure you give yourself some time to relax.
P.S. I don’t just mean when you’re stressed, you always need to have you time scheduled in, even if you feel chill already.
If you want to read some more on burnout, I highly advise you check out Anne Peterson’s Buzzfeed Article How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation or Alastair Davidon’s Burnout Among Young Employees.