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Millennials Guide to Avoiding Burnout

Once upon a time, there lived a millennial named Alex. Alex was a go-getter, a digital native fluent in the language of 'hustle and grind.' But as the days blurred into a continuous loop of Zoom meetings, endless emails, and social media pressures, Alex's vibrant spark began to dim. This is a story about breaking up with an unwelcome companion many of us know too well - burnout.

Burnout is not just a trendy buzzword; it's a significant health concern, especially among millennials. A 2021 study by Deloitte revealed that 77% of millennials felt some level of burnout at their current job, a startling statistic highlighting its prevalence. But why is our generation particularly susceptible?

 
girl smiling and practicing self care
 

In this blog post:

 

The Unique Millennial Challenge

Often defined as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, millennials are the first digital natives, having grown up in an era marked by rapid technological advancements. This generation has witnessed a unique blend of historical events, economic shifts, and cultural transformations. We are known for our adaptability, tech-savviness, and a strong desire for work-life balance, which contrasts significantly with previous generations. Millennials value meaningful work, personal growth, and are often driven by a desire to make a positive impact in the world. However admirable, these traits also place them at a higher risk of experiencing burnout due to the immense pressure they often put on themselves to achieve and excel in various aspects of life.


We've grown up alongside the digital revolution. While technology has undoubtedly brought convenience and connectivity, it has also blurred the lines between work and personal life. The 'always-on' culture means constant accessibility, leading to a sense of never truly being 'off work.' This environment is ripe for burnout, characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of reduced professional ability.

 

Understanding Burnout

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It's characterized by feelings of overwhelm, emotional drainage, and reduced personal accomplishment. While it's often associated with the workplace, burnout can also stem from other life pressures. The World Health Organization recognizes it as an occupational phenomenon, highlighting its significant impact on individuals' well-being.


Most discussions around burnout focus on physical exhaustion, but there's more beneath the surface. Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who first coined the term in 1974, noted that burnout is not just physical exhaustion but can also lead to a diminished sense of accomplishment and depersonalization - feeling detached from your work and the people it serves. Burnout isn't just about feeling tired; it's a deeper, more systemic issue that can lead to detachment from work, decreased productivity, and even serious health concerns like depression and heart disease. For millennials, who often juggle multiple roles and high expectations, burnout has become an increasingly common challenge – one that calls for a proactive and compassionate approach to address effectively.


 

What are the root causes of Millennials experiencing burnout?



Millennials experience burnout due to a unique blend of societal, professional, and personal factors. Understanding these reasons is key to addressing and preventing burnout in this demographic:

  1. High Expectations and Pressure to Succeed: Many millennials grew up during a time of economic prosperity and rapid technological advancement, creating an environment where high achievement was expected. This pressure, often internalized, leads to a mindset where anything less than excellence can feel like failure.

  2. The Impact of Technology: Being the first digital natives, millennials are constantly connected through smartphones and social media. This constant connectivity can blur the lines between work and personal life, leading to difficulty in disconnecting and relaxing, which is essential for mental health.

  3. Economic Challenges: Despite being highly educated, many millennials entered the workforce during economic downturns, such as the 2008 financial crisis and the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to job insecurity, underemployment, and a high cost of living, adding significant financial stress.

  4. The 'Hustle Culture': There's a prevalent 'hustle culture' in millennial work environments, glorifying overwork and the idea that one should always be busy or striving for more. This culture often leads to working long hours without adequate rest, which is a direct path to burnout.

  5. Work-Life Balance Challenges: Many millennials struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance. The pressure to excel in their careers while also maintaining an active social life, pursuing personal interests, and, for some, raising a family, can be overwhelming.

  6. Changing Job Market: The modern job market often demands a diverse skill set and the ability to adapt quickly to changes. This can lead to a continuous cycle of learning and adapting, which, while beneficial for career growth, can also be mentally exhausting.

  7. Social Comparisons via Social Media: Social media can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and the fear of missing out (FOMO). Constant exposure to the highlights of others' lives can create unrealistic benchmarks for personal success and happiness.

  8. Seeking Purpose and Fulfillment: Millennials tend to seek jobs that provide not just a paycheck but also a sense of purpose and fulfillment. When this need is not met, it can lead to dissatisfaction and burnout.

 

The Road to Recovery

So, how do we break up with burnout? The journey is personal, but here are some strategies that go beyond the usual 'take a vacation' advice:

 

1. Reframe Your Work Narrative:

Viewing work as a long-term journey rather than a short sprint is a mindset shift that involves changing your perspective on how you approach your career and professional goals. This concept is rooted in understanding the difference between short-term intensity and long-term endurance. Here’s what it entails:

  1. Short Sprint: In a sprint, the focus is on immediate results. It's about fast-paced, high-intensity work to achieve goals quickly. However, this often leads to quick burnout as it's unsustainable over time. In a sprint mindset, goals are immediate and often narrowly focused. This can lead to a sense of urgency and pressure. A short-term focus can lead to neglecting personal needs, relationships, and health, leading to burnout.

  2. Long-Term Journey: Viewing work as a marathon means recognizing that a career spans years, even decades. It's about pacing yourself, knowing there will be periods of both intense effort and rest. This approach is sustainable and acknowledges the importance of balance. With a marathon mindset, you set long-term goals that align with your overall career vision. These goals are broader and more flexible, allowing for adjustments along the way. Viewing your career as a long-term journey includes prioritizing work-life balance, recognizing that personal well-being is crucial for sustained professional success.

 

2. Cultivate a Hobby Outside Work:



A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that creative hobbies can enhance employee performance and wellbeing. Engaging in activities unrelated to work can rejuvenate your mind. This could be anything from painting, gardening, cooking, to learning a musical instrument. The key is to find something enjoyable that's completely unrelated to work. Finding a hobby when you're not sure where to start can be both exciting and a bit daunting. Here are some steps and tips to help you discover a hobby that resonates with you:

  1. Reflect on Your Interests: Think about what you enjoy or find intriguing. Reflect on activities you loved as a child or have always wanted to try. Consider what types of activities appeal to you – creative, physical, intellectual, social, etc.

  2. Explore and Research: Look for inspiration online. Websites like Pinterest or YouTube can offer a plethora of ideas. Read blogs or articles about different hobbies. They often provide insights into what a hobby entails and how to get started.

  3. Try Short Experiences: Attend workshops or short courses. Many community centers, libraries, or local businesses offer introductory sessions for various activities. Use apps or online platforms that offer short-term classes or tutorials in various skills and hobbies.

  4. Look to Your Social Circle: Ask friends or family about their hobbies and if you can join them in their activities. Join social media groups or forums based on interests. They can be great resources for advice and encouragement.

  5. Start Small and Be Patient: Begin with small, manageable projects or sessions. This can prevent feeling overwhelmed. Remember that developing a new hobby takes time. Be patient with yourself as you learn and grow in the activity.

  6. Scheduling Hobby Time: Just like work meetings, schedule regular time for your hobby to ensure it becomes a part of your routine.

 

2. Set Technological Boundaries:


Setting technological boundaries is a vital step in combating burnout. These boundaries help reduce the stress of being constantly connected, allowing for essential mental rest. By clearly delineating work and personal time, they improve work-life balance and prevent the blurring of lines between professional and personal life. Reducing time spent on devices helps manage information overload and cognitive strain, while also freeing up time for relaxing and fulfilling activities.

Here are some examples you can try:

  1. Tech-Free Zones: Designate certain areas of your home as tech-free zones, especially bedrooms, to improve sleep quality. Implementing this practice also involves practical steps like using traditional alarm clocks and establishing clear guidelines for tech use, ensuring a balanced and mindful approach to technology in our daily lives.

  2. Scheduled Disconnects: Scheduling disconnects is a method of consciously planning periods during which you step away from technology, particularly digital devices and online platforms. This practice is essential for mental health, productivity, and overall well-being. Here's a guide on how to effectively schedule these tech-free periods:

    1. Identify Ideal Times for Disconnects: Consider disconnecting during the first hour after waking up and the last hour before bedtime. These are crucial times for setting the tone of your day and preparing your mind for rest. Make mealtimes tech-free to encourage mindful eating and engaging with family or friends.

    2. Plan Tech-Free Activities: Have alternatives to digital entertainment ready. This could be a book, a hobby, engaging in physical activities, or simply spending time in nature.

    3. Set Clear Boundaries: Be specific about what 'disconnecting' means for you. It could involve turning off your phone, avoiding social media, or not checking emails.

    4. Inform Others: Let your colleagues, friends, and family know about your tech-free times. This helps manage expectations regarding your availability and reduces the pressure to respond immediately.

    5. Use Tools to Help Disconnect: Utilize 'do not disturb' features on devices and consider apps that limit your usage of certain apps or websites during designated times.

    6. Create Physical Separation from Devices: Keep your phone in another room or in a drawer during your disconnect times to reduce temptation.

 

3. Digital Detox Challenges:

A digital detox challenge is an opportunity to reset your relationship with technology. It's not about demonizing digital devices but rather about finding a healthier, more mindful way to incorporate them into your life. This can be a refreshing break for your mind and can improve your overall well-being.


Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Set Clear Goals and Duration: Determine what you want to achieve with your digital detox. It could be to reduce stress, improve sleep, or spend more time on hobbies. It could range from a day to a week or even longer, depending on your goals and commitment level.

  2. Define the Scope: Be clear about which aspects of digital life you're detoxing from. This could include social media, emails, news websites, or all digital devices.

  3. Prepare for the Detox: Notify friends, family, and colleagues about your detox to set expectations regarding your availability. Address any urgent matters before the detox to avoid the temptation of breaking it.

  4. Remove Temptations: Uninstall or disable distracting apps from your phone or tablet. Log out of social media accounts to make accessing them less convenient. Place your devices out of sight.

  5. Plan Alternative Activities: Have a list of activities ready that you can engage in during the detox, like reading, outdoor activities, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones.

  6. Reflect and Journal: Keep a journal to record your experiences, thoughts, and feelings during the detox. Reflect on how the detox is affecting your mood, sleep, and relationships. After completing the detox, evaluate what you learned. Did you notice any improvements in your well-being? Are there changes you want to make in your daily tech habits?

  7. Reintroduce Technology Gradually: After the detox period, gradually reintroduce technology. Consider implementing some of the habits you developed during the detox into your regular routine.

 

4. Seek Meaningful Connections:


The shift towards remote work, particularly among millennials, has brought many advantages, such as flexibility and the absence of a commute. However, it also comes with challenges, chief among them being loneliness. Working from home can lead to a sense of isolation, as it reduces the day-to-day interactions and social connections that naturally occur in a traditional office setting. This loneliness can exacerbate feelings of burnout, making it crucial to actively seek and cultivate meaningful connections.


Building strong personal relationships in the era of remote work and other modern challenges is crucial for emotional support and a sense of belonging. This task requires intention and creativity, especially when traditional ways of socializing and networking are less accessible.


Here’s how to foster these connections:

  1. Leverage Technology for Communication: Regular video calls with friends and family can create a more intimate and engaging experience than texts or emails. Use social media platforms to stay connected, but be intentional about it. Engage in meaningful conversations rather than passive scrolling.

  2. Create or Join Virtual Communities: Join online communities or forums that align with your interests or hobbies. These platforms can be great for meeting like-minded individuals. Participate in virtual networking events, webinars, or discussion groups in your professional field to stay connected with peers.

  3. Cultivate Existing Relationships: Make it a point to regularly check in with close friends and family, whether through a phone call, a text, or a virtual hangout. Don’t shy away from deep and meaningful conversations. These can strengthen bonds and provide significant emotional support.

  4. Embrace Local Opportunities: Engage with your local community through activities like clubs, classes, or volunteering. These can be excellent ways to meet new people and feel connected. Joining a fitness class, walking club, or reading club are some great examples!

  5. Nurturing Relationships at Work: Organize or participate in casual virtual coffee breaks or lunch meetings with colleagues to replicate office socialization. Engage in or initiate mentorship programs within your organization, which can be a great way to build meaningful professional relationships.

 

5. Professional Help When Needed:


In the journey of managing burnout, there are times when professional assistance becomes not just beneficial, but necessary. Seeking help from therapists or career coaches can offer a level of guidance and support that friends or family might not be equipped to provide. These professionals bring expertise in mental health and career development, offering strategies tailored to your individual situation. Their objective perspective can be incredibly valuable in identifying the root causes of your burnout and developing a plan to address them.


  1. Types of Therapists:

    1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapists: These therapists specialize in identifying and changing negative thought patterns that contribute to burnout.

    2. Stress Management Therapists: They focus on teaching practical skills for managing and reducing stress.

    3. Career Therapists: They blend traditional therapy with career counseling to address burnout related to job dissatisfaction or workplace stress.

  2. Online Therapy Platforms: Online therapy has become increasingly popular, offering convenience and flexibility. Platforms like Talkspace or BetterHelp allow you to connect with a therapist remotely, which can be particularly beneficial if you’re juggling a busy schedule.

  3. Group Therapy Sessions: Group therapy can provide a sense of community and shared experience. Hearing from others facing similar challenges can be comforting and provide different perspectives on coping strategies.

  4. Career Coaches: Career coaches can help you reassess your career goals, work-life balance, and job satisfaction. They can provide practical advice on career development, transitioning to a new job, or navigating workplace challenges.

  5. Wellness Coaches:Wellness coaches take a holistic approach, focusing on overall well-being, including work, health, and personal life. They can help you develop a balanced lifestyle that aligns with your personal values and goals.

  6. Alternative Therapy Options: Consider alternative therapies like art therapy or music therapy, which use creative expression as a means to reduce stress and improve mental well-being.

  7. Mindfulness and Meditation Coaches: These coaches specialize in teaching mindfulness techniques, which can be highly effective in managing stress and preventing burnout.

  8. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): Many employers offer EAPs that provide confidential access to mental health professionals. These services are often underutilized but can be a valuable resource.


In seeking professional help, it’s important to find someone you feel comfortable with and who understands your unique situation. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength and self-awareness, not weakness.

 

As we revisit our friend Alex, we find them learning to step back, to embrace moments of stillness amidst the chaos. Alex's journey is a reminder that breaking up with burnout isn't about a one-time fix but about ongoing, mindful decisions that prioritize our well-being.


Remember, it's not just about working smarter or harder; it's about working healthier. Let's redefine success - where health and happiness are not just footnotes but the main story.

 

Resources for Further Exploration:

  • Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2021

  • Freudenberger, H. J. (1974). Staff burn-out. Journal of Social Issues, 30(1), 159-165.

  • Eschleman, K. J., Madsen, J., Alarcon, G., & Barelka, A. (2014). Benefiting from creative activity: The positive relationships between creative activity, recovery experiences, and performance-related outcomes. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 87(3), 579-598.

 

Each of us navigates a distinct path in dealing with burnout, a journey that’s as much about self-discovery as it is about recovery and growth. As we move forward, let’s view our strategies for overcoming burnout not merely as tasks to be ticked off, but as compassionate guides leading us back to our most balanced and fulfilled selves. Remember, there’s no universal solution for managing burnout. Your approach to healing and rejuvenation is as individual and remarkable as you are.

As we continue on this path, I encourage you to embrace this affirmation: "I am on a journey of healing and self-care. Each day, I choose actions and thoughts that nurture my well-being and bring peace to my life. I am deserving of a harmonious and joyful journey."

 

Check out some of my favorite resources to stay mindful:

 

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Steph Genco, plant-based wellness & nutrition coach for women.

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