Burnout—the feeling of mental and physical exhaustion—is on the rise, particularly in millennials, and in a time of hyper-connectivity and the ‘hustle’, it’s more important than ever to spot the signs and regain a positive work-life balance. Not doing so could cause problems like ‘errand paralysis’, a condition of being unable to cope with the most basic tasks due to mounting anxiety, which Anne Helen Peterson discusses in her then viral Buzzfeed article. As she writes, “I’d put something on my weekly to-do list, and it’d roll over, one week to the next haunting me for months.”
Peterson’s essay on millennial burnout provoked a wide range of responses, including Josh Cohen’s article published at NBCNews. In the article, he examines some of the factors that may be contributing to burnout in millennials, such as the ‘ego ideal’ and the influences of modern culture. Research from the BBC backs up the phenomenon of millennial burnout, describing it as “not just another snowflake issue”, as does The Guardian’s article written by Dawn Foster. We know that burnout is real, but what can we do to about it?
Well, let’s start with the obvious. We need to take a good look at our relationship with technology. Social media contributes to feelings of burnout, according to Peterson, because much of what appears online portrays others as successful, reminding millennials of the work they must do to reach that standard. Interestingly, studies have shown that heavy technology use is linked to fatigue and stress in young adults, which means taking daily breaks from our screens should be a priority. Because millennials have grown up in a day and age where the internet has given them access to masses of information, they’ve been hard-wired to expect efficiency and convenience.
With thousands of apps at our fingertips, millennials have never had to wait for anything, so it’s no surprise that many young adults feel impatient, and as a result are working harder and faster, burning out in the process. While we can’t change the conditions in which we grew up, we can reassess how we engage with technology to ensure it’s not having any negative effects.
But what about tackling burnout in the office? Executive coach and keynote speaker, Monique Valcour said that “altering your perspective” to view the work in a more positive way is one of the best methods to manage stress. I’ve often found that work becomes more stressful when you overthink it, or when you become too focused on the outcome. Of course, achieving any goal is important but actually enjoying the process makes you more in tune with the work and less worried about the end result. Once we learn to appreciate and focus on the process, start-to-finish, the work can become more fulfilling, reducing the chance of burning out.
Arguably, the greater sense of an urgency that many millennials feel has been exasperated by the rise of hustle culture, an almost cult-like trend being pushed on young people, which advocates that working non-stop is the only way to be successful. A lot of millennials are quite ambitious, and that’s what makes us particularly vulnerable to this kind of movement, as evidenced by Peterson’s account. “Why am I burned out?” she writes. “Because I’ve internalised the idea that I should be working all the time.” I’m not against working hard or being dedicated to your passion but it should never be at the expense of your well-being. There’s no point hustling to the point of exhaustion or taking work so seriously that it becomes mentally draining. Simply put, quit hustling if it makes you feel miserable because no side-project in the world is worth burning out over.
It’s no secret the way we work is changing and many of us in the millennial generation juggle multiple jobs, making good communication all the more important. It’s often said that millennials need continuous feedback at work, which again reflects how millennials are used to speed and transparency. In stressful times, we should embrace our own nature of expecting constant communication by reaching out to people (in the real world) for support. After all, collaboration makes it easier to solve problems and a network of strong relationships could ease the pressure.
Ultimately, burnout is a sign that you need to slow down and reset. While I agree with the central argument in Peterson’s essay, her assumption that burnout is an unsolvable experience is tough to accept—because I think most of us just need to change the way we think. In short, having the right frame of mind is key, so it’s time to fight back, take control and actively manage your time to get past burnout for good.
It’s no secret the 80s are back, and in acknowledging the resurgence of scrunchies and SoundCloud overflowing with synthpop there’s one trend that never really left: hustle culture. A recent New York Times article, Why Are Young People Pretending To Love Work, mentioned coworking giant WeWork, where it is common to find signs like ‘Hustle Harder’ and ‘Stop When You Are Done’.
Somewhere around Netflix’s Girlboss series adaptation, described as a “tone-deaf rallying cry to millennial narcissists”, hustle culture became a subject of mockery. Yet, here it is, still a dominant ideology in 2019 (people who worship Elon Musk are very much alive and well). They say culture is a pendulum, and so the more recent self-care phenomenon appeared to enter internet culture as a true antithesis to the daily grind. Although there were initially obvious benefits to this idea in its purest sense, (self-love and prioritising health = good), the rush-to-market approach taken by brands to repackage rest and mental health as purchasable (aka the self-care industrial complex) has created a new sort of essential oil-infused dystopian reality.
With self-care often pitted as the solution to hustle culture, you’d think the social media sphere would have polarised into contrasting ideologies. But these trends have more in common than appears. Both lend themselves equally to earnestness and commodification. They’re shaped around the concept of self-improvement, and they’re both powerful mechanisms for social identity construction, and the transition of ‘wants’ into ‘needs.’
In fact, many brands and individuals have chosen to champion them simultaneously. Nike, long-time pioneers of ‘just doing it’, recently co-hosted a ‘Self Care Saturday’ in LA with Urban Outfitters that featured crystal facials (whatever that might mean). And Girlboss—one of the pioneers of the glossier-but-make-it-corporate marketing of hustle culture—has a ‘wellness’ brand pillar.
Strangely, rather than living side by side, hustle culture and self care have come together in a strange marriage. It’s 2019, and you still need to get that bread, but also remember to use your meditation app.
Now both these cultures are likely also a response to an increasingly uncertain future. For young people, this has produced a kind of unapologetically paradoxical, post-woke, “material girl in a dying world” mentality. The consensus seems to be when the system is broken, all we can really do is focus on improving ourselves and our direct and online communities. And unfortunately, the reality of self-improvement in the late 10s is that there’s always something new to need.
While hustle culture and self-are both put the responsibility on the individual, we should seek to examine the systems that purposefully encourage hyper-individualism in the view of needing consumers to need—and shop.
Even as self-care reaches the end of internet-earnestness and joins hustle culture and Girlboss in the parody phase, it’s anything but the end for their collective cultural influence. The self-care meets hustle culture paradox will live on through years of future content, as we continue to shape a large portion of our identities through a branded hierarchy of needs.
This article was written by Pitch Portal for Screen Shot as part of its recent project in collaboration with Screen Shot and the V&A Museum: Let’s (Not) Get This Bread.