The idea of ‘Millennial Burnout’ was popularized by the viral Buzzfeed article titled: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation, by Anne Helen Petersen, which was published in January 2019. I remember reading the article at the time, and finding it extremely interesting, but not really something that I could relate to, as it focuses on burnout in relation to the workplace.
The BBC reported on this idea in an online article not long after. Then a few days ago, an article from The Tab popped up on my Facebook feed, addressing the idea from the perspective of students. As soon as I began to read it, I realised why the previous articles had intrigued me so much – this idea of ‘millennial burnout’ was something that I related to on such a personal level. I was only realising it now that the concept had been presented to me from within the student population.
You may be familiar with the idea of burnout. It tends to be medically recognised as an overexertion from chronic stress and working that leads to physical symptoms such as exhaustion and lack of motivation. One way which Petersen characterises burnout is what she has termed ‘errand paralysis’. This is the idea that simple tasks become difficult and are put off for a long time because the individual feels as though they should be doing something more important, or that the high level of effort that the task will require to complete isn’t worth the small personal benefit that it will bring. Petersen suggests that we are much more interested in benefits related to our career or work output.
Individuals become unable to relax, feeling constantly guilty for not being productive and are at all times hyper-alert of what they think they should be doing. This can lead to a level of stress which affects sleep, and can contribute to or introduce symptoms of anxiety.
So where does this fit into student life?
The main aim of university is to graduate with a degree that will be beneficial to you when trying to get a job that you’re interested in. However, students are now constantly told that a degree is not enough, and that other activities and skills are needed to diversity your CV and help you stand out as an employable individual. On top of working towards a degree, many students hold a part-time job, and are involved in one, or often more, extracurricular activities which will display these additional skills and make them appear to be a well-rounded individual.
This means that the line between university and everyday become blurred. For example, I’m writing this article because I enjoy writing and get a lot of joy from it, but I am also incredibly aware that this piece will have an audience and is something that I may be judged upon at a later time. I feel far less guilty for watching TV shows when I know I’ll be writing some kind of article about them.
Students are guilty of overcommitting to things, but still hitting deadlines because we overwork to do it, convincing ourselves that we should be working all the time. We think that we’re not working as hard as we could be, or other successful people are. This feeling is heightened by the ever-critical public who talk about us lazy students who spend all our time hungover or in nightclubs.
The huge role the internet now plays in our university experience is a blessing and curse. The internet is a fantastic tool for a variety of things, but the personal and 24/7 nature of it means that people are always expected to be available and easily accessible. It can be difficult to switch off and remember that your phone is a tool for you, and not just to be bombarded with all the reminders of the things you have to do.
It’s difficult to see an end to this issue, as the pressure from prospective employers and our own too-high personal expectations is ever-growing. But if you’re reading this, take a minute today to remind yourself that you’re doing university for you, and no one else.