Dear fellow millennial,
What’s been exhausting you lately?
Oh – everything?
Turns out there are many who are just like us, who hit the snooze button each morning for that extra five to ten minutes of sleep. But you don’t ever truly fall back to sleep, do you? More than sleep, it’s you laying in bed pretending to rest, succumbed to that odd feeling whirring in your belly. I’ve tried to define that feeling previously, but it’s hard to pinpoint it. Nonetheless, it’s a proper mix of dread and anxiety about the looming day ahead – at least for me.
Which brings me to my next point: when’s the last time you relaxed? Do you actually know how to relax at all?
I don’t think we do if I’m being honest. In Singapore, where we live, eat and breathe unbeatable efficiency and sky-high standards of perfectionism, we can’t help it. It’s ingrained in us – we’ve been raised since childhood to chase after sunrises and success, to climb that corporate ladder; fit into a proven-to-work mould in life. What this results in, from years of social conditioning, is prolonged anxiety and downward thought spiral about the future. Such an outlook has unfortunately characterised our generation as the “burnout generation”.
Recent studies have shown although ‘millennial burnout’ isn’t a recognised medical condition yet, 74% of millennials are so stressed in their lives that we’ve not been able to even cope with simple tasks of the everyday. The same study found 49% of 18 to 24-year-olds who experience high levels of stress felt that the constant comparison with their peers was the source of their stresses. This statistic was higher than in any of the older age groups. Essentially, this is what burnout really is – a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, that you just can’t deal with the day to day.
Why We’re Burnt Out
Millennial burnout, an occupational phenomenon?
Last month, I attended a fashion event and we had the usual mingle session with others. It occurred to me how strange it must be to introduce yourself as your job title, as if it defines the very person you are; as if you cannot be more than your day job.
Sure, we spend a lot of our adulthood trying to carve out some sense of success for ourselves. I’d like to think that’s normal. But I think more than we hope it to be, we’re more attached to our jobs than we’d like to admit it. We allow it to become who we are, but we forget that we’re human beings. Not human doings.
Even more interestingly, when I turned circles to speak with Caucasians for a change, I was surprised how there was a slight difference. The conversation generally revolved around a casual discussion, my social life (away from work), how we found the event, what we’re doing after etc. Rarely did work come up.
Unsurprisingly, I left the event feeling very amused by the findings of my observation. It’s not news that in most countries around the world today, but especially in Singapore, the line between work and life is so blurred that work-life balance remains something in the clouds we all hope for, but never attain.
Plus, we’re connected 24/7. So there’s an unspoken expectation to be always available, whether it’s for work or play. In fact, it seems we’re so persistent in being online all the time that it doesn’t even stop during our vacations. We’ve learnt how to not switch off. There’s no such thing as letting our hair down, which I guess counterintuitively, is why wellness retreats are trending. In order to unwind, which seems like a natural thing to do, we need to force ourselves to it.
Doing great at work, but my personal life? Forget it.
Don’t get me wrong here. I believe work is important, and I enjoy what I do. For one, I put a lot of pressure on myself to work hard and do good work. but while I’m doing well in my career, I can’t say the same about my personal life. Honestly, it’s a mess.
I have endless to-do lists I never get to. All week I’ll look forward to checking tasks off it, lay in bed and dream about all these projects I hope to work on, but then the weekend comes around and – well, surprise! I’m too drained to do anything. Because I consider myself a purpose-driven person, when I don’t check errands off my list, I’m left feeling overwhelmed – like I’m not getting on top of things.
It’s not entirely out of sight, out of mind either. In fact, it’s more a vicious cycle: I spend too much time thinking about doing it, but feel unable to get to them. So I feel bad about it, mull over it, and come Monday, I feel like I’ve not even left the office last Friday. There’s no rest so I’m permanently tired. There’s zero productivity so I feel constantly guilty. What I do end up achieving is a lot of anxiety, and it inevitably affects my sense of self-worth.
“None of these tasks were that hard,” she wrote. “It’s not as if I were slacking in the rest of my life. But when it came to the mundane, the medium priority, the stuff that wouldn’t make my job easier or my work better, I avoided it. The more I tried to figure out my errand paralysis, the more the actual parameters of burnout began to reveal themselves… It’s not limited to workers in acutely high-stress environments. And it’s not a temporary affliction: It’s the millennial condition.”
One of the biggest symptoms of millennial burnout is feeling like all aspects of your life crashes into one big, turbulent ocean, and you’re just struggling to stay afloat with no shore in sight.
How to Fight Burnout
A simple solution: mindfulness.
If you’re a regular patron of our blog, you know IUIGA’s big on practising mindfulness in our daily lives. But I understand that sometimes, to some, just the word ‘mindfulness’ alone confuses, deters and pushes people away. What even is it? You’re not alone. Most of my friends hear the word and immediately picture themselves having to sit in a lotus position for meditation.
You see: meditation is really just a tool that helps you be mindful. I assure you it’s not all there is to this, however. In fact, if you’re not keen to meditate, just throw that out the window! You don’t have to do it. That’s not what it’s about.
What it’s about, is far simpler than our preconceptions of it lead us to believe. Being mindful means being self-aware, conscious of where you are – be it in life, at work or play, and appreciating the contentment of just. being. alive.
Breathing. Heart-beating. Here.
Yet it’s not easy to practise. When we’re not self-aware and grounded in the here and now, we go through life unconscious of our thoughts, emotions and actions, allowing it to gain control over us. But if there’s one thing I’ve truly realised and started to live in the past year since recognising I’ve spent too many years tormented by to-do lists and expectations, none of it matters.
What matters is knowing we have total control steering this ship that’s our life, having the power to do everything we can to move from unpleasant situations and emotional ruts.
After all, at the end of every day since we were born and till we return to the greater universe: we’re only human. It’s best we start living this truth sooner than later for a meaningful life.
Much has been discussed on this topic of millennial burnout recently, and if you’re interested, here are some great articles to enlighten yourself:
- How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation
- Here’s What ‘Millennial Burnout’ is Like For 16 Different People
More on mindfulness: