Millennials can often get a bad press with an assumed lack of work ethic or motivation, but as they are branded the burnout generation it is becoming clear this ethos is quite the opposite: millennials can’t stop. We speak to two students about the dangers of millennial burnout and how to take a break.
For the last year the phrase millennial burnout has frequently appeared in the news discussing the added strain felt by the generation.
With increased pressures to succeed, your generation is at a higher risk of physical and mental ill health – with burnout being the buzzword for the epidemic.
There is no single definition of burnout: it can be described as being under pressure to the point of being exhausted or unable to cope.
The expectation for millennials to have it all – your well-paid dream job, happy relationships and a social life akin to the Instafamous – has exacerbated the problem.
Medical student Laura, and English Language and Linguistics Student Elliot have both experienced burnout.
Like other mental health issues, the symptoms of burnout manifest differently for each individual. Laura’s high levels of stress started to become unbearable during her university exams.
“I just couldn’t face having to go through so many more exam seasons,” Laura remembers. “I just felt like I was on a constant conveyor belt of stress.”
Looking back, Elliot believes they first experienced burnout during secondary school, but didn’t start to recognise the symptoms until their time at university. Elliot’s burnout usually happens in two stages.
“During the first stage I maintain all mycommitments of academia, volunteering and socialising, and take on more,” Elliot explains. “To the people I interact with all day, I am at my productive peak.
“What they don’t see is me at the end of theday: curtains drawn and lights out, not ableto move from bed to cook dinner.”
Elliot’s second stage of burnout is much more extreme, they continue: “Suddenly, I can no longer maintain any commitments or even basic activities to look after myself, my mental and physical health is utterly depleted.”
Feeling overwhelmed is a common symptom of burnout with almost three quarters of adults in the UK feeling so stressed that they are unable to cope. Left unrecognised and untreated, this can lead to other mental health issues.
After her stress quickly transpired into anxiety, Laura started experiencing physical symptoms, she explains: “Stress can do a lot to your body and immune system, it becomes very physical, causing viral infections, headaches, muscle aches and all sorts of very real physical symptoms.”
These physical symptoms can make it hard to carry out everyday tasks, Elliot says:“It is difficult for me to do the things manypeople don’t have to think about, such as maintaining hygiene, eating and drinking, or keeping the house clean.”
The expectations placed upon millennials to succeed in all areas of life can be paralysing. With more school leavers attending university – but a depleting jobs market – competition adds to this stress.
Now that they are taking more time to relax and combat burnout, Elliot feels their peers also expect more. “Even when I’m shut in my room, I’m still contactable 24/7 online,” Elliot explains. “Some people are shocked that I am not ‘on’ constantly.”
Over time, both Elliot and Laura have learnt it is important to take time for yourself, or the consequences could bedisastrous. “I find it interesting we use the phrase ‘switched on’,” Elliot considers.
“Like a computer, humans cannot be left onindefinitely without damaging ourselves.”
This societal expectation to be on top of everything extends past education and social situations – it’s intensified by technology.
The need to be liked, shared, upvoted and retweeted can have a greater effect when you are behind closed doors, alone. Social media time limits and new algorithms are making social media platforms a safer place for mental health to flourish, but the platforms can make it harder to switch off.
Social media’s contribution to the burnout epidemic can’t be denied, but neither can its positives.
When experiencing mental health problems, social media can be a way to share and seek support.
“When I’m overwhelmed, sometimes it is much easier to communicate via social media,” Elliot explains.
“Socialising online can feel like a lower intensity of interaction, if I am too anxious to leave the house, at least I can maintain contact with the outside world.”
Elliot and Laura now both know how to recognise when they are at risk of burningout, and have taken steps to find supportand balance.
“It took me failing and havinga mental breakdown to finally seek help,”admits Laura. “I now feel like a totally different person, I have a far healthier outlook on life.”
Burnout is becoming more common but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. “This is not something you need to carry alone,” urges Elliot. “You can start building a supportnetwork by confiding in a friend or familymember, and talking to your GP.
“If we can foster an environment where mental health is talked about openly, maybe we can encourage real change in society’s attitudes and response to mental healthdifficulties.”
Starting a conversation is the first step to changing attitudes, removing the stigma around mental health, and raising awareness of the signs of burnout. As burnout continues to rise, it’s time for millennials to switch off.