You’ve got an insurance claim to make from when that airline lost your luggage three months ago, a stack of unreturned but unwanted jumpsuits piled in your bedroom, and sheets of forms to fill out so you can get on your workplace dental scheme. Sure, you need to get all of this stuff done, like, yesterday. But, when it comes to trying, you feel too depleted to even consider it.
Sound familiar? If so, you may be dealing with ‘millennial burnout’ – a phenomenon articulated by Buzzfeed journalist Anne Helen Petersen at the start of 2019. In the viral piece, she posited that those of us between the ages of 23 and 38 often struggle with getting mundane errands done. Why? She theorizes that we’ve got a collectively empty tank because we’ve grown-up conditioned - by everything from the parents and teachers who influenced our early lives to the TV shows we watch now - to believe that we need to be constantly productive.
Okay, so burnout isn't new – people have always worked too much and become mired in responsibilities to the point of exhaustion. But is there something in the idea of a specific genre of the condition that occurs in response to the digital age?
‘Yes,’ says clinical psychologist Dr Soph. ‘The difference now is that when we aren’t at work or completing a specific task, we are on our phones, on computers.’ Factor in the drive to curate a ‘perfect’ life on social and you always have the ‘what will other people think’ part of your brain switched on, even when you’re spending a sunny afternoon hanging in the park.
‘Our brains are rarely just in the present,’ she explains. And, newsflash: this is leading us down the path of zero energy and a lack of lust for life. One that manifests as strung-out paralysis when faced with the need to book a doctor’s appointment or mail an RSVP. ‘Our brains run out of energy without moments of silence and rest,’ Dr. elaborates. ‘Switching tasks repeatedly, fatigue and high levels of stress (which busy-ness inevitably leads to) causes the prefrontal cortex to go offline.’
This is the part of your brain that you need for more complex tasks – things like decision making and moderating your social . When it’s not in the room: ‘You are now responding from your limbic system, which means you get an emotional response.’ Which, we don’t need to tell you, isn’t always helpful.
Reckon this might be something you’re dealing with? Dr spells out the signs:
*Lack of interest in things you usually love
*Struggling to complete tasks should be manageable, like admin-y errands
If those sound familiar, here are her five ways to fight back.
1/ Think of ways to streamline your tasks and days. Each morning through what you have to get done and ask yourself what is really important and what can wait.
2/ Schedule in real breaks. For example, if you have made a to-do list for the day, break for five minutes each hour where you get up and walk around – and don’t check emails or Instagram.
3/ Digital detox: Try taking a day per week to disconnect from your phone. Or, if that’s too much right now, experiment with deleting the apps you mindlessly use the most.
4/ Decide to only check your social media once or twice per day at a specific time. Agree with a friend you will do this and maybe hold each other accountable.
5/ Learn to say ‘no’: One of the reasons so many people are burnt out is because we say ‘yes’ to everyone. We do this because we want to please people and also because we don't want to miss out on an opportunity. Unfortunately, this means we are giving away all of our energy - and nothing is worth that.
by Claudia Canavan & Roisín Dervish-O’Kane, @allupinyourfeelings