How to Avoid Millennial Burnout, According to Therapists
Millennials are the generation who grew up answering the age-old question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" believing that we could, quite literally, do and be anything. We are the generation whose parents gave us ample praise and protection; the ones who were raised with technological advancements; the ones led to unequivocally believe that we are special, unique and worthy. So then, why are we also constantly talking about millennial burnout?
Probably because we're also the generation who grew up in an age where Gen Xers and Baby Boomers blame us for the downfall of society at large; the ones who reportedly spend too much time on social media and too little time investing our money; the ones who found out, perhaps the hard way, that we can't always do and be everything in life. We are the subject of a viral article that labels us as "the burnout generation," because we work so hard and deal so poorly with confrontation that we're often brought to a state of near collapse. It's a problem, and we need to find a solution.
What is millennial burnout?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a Millennial is anyone born between 1982 and 2000. This bracket of people, now aged 20-38, grew up in a "hustle" culture, believing that work was the center of the world, says Elisa Robyn, PhD.
Millennials are your hardworking, overachieving bosses, employees, coworkers, and friends, the people who are driven more by passion than stability, unlike previous generations.
The result of it all? Millennial burnout. Categorized by irritability, emotional and physical exhaustion, and an overall sense of depletion, burnout is being felt by millennials, and woman in particular, to an alarming degree.
In a recent Meredith-partnered Harris poll, the vast majority of women (81%) reported feeling that the issue of burnout is even bigger than themselves saying, "We live in a society that glorifies being busy."
Between job obligations, family needs, financial stress, and household duties, women are feeling more anxious, tired, and overwhelmed than ever before. With lives that are more full but souls that are less satisfied, many are struggling not to feel burn out. And while Jen Douglas, PhD, a licensed psychologist in San Francisco and clinical assistant professor at Stanford University, says that burnout syndrome is a normal human reaction to our external stressors, it can also be avoided, or at the very least, mitigated, with a few simple steps.
How to avoid millennial burnout:
1. Assert your needs in the workplace.
Douglas advises her clients to get clear about what they want their work life to look like. Whether that's working from home two days a week, seeing what kind of student loan financing options are available, or getting a straight-up salary raise, Douglas says it's important to view your job in a way that fosters your needs being met, instead of the other way around.
"Too often, women, people of color, and those in the LGBTQ community feel like they can't advocate for their own needs at work because they're taught just to feel grateful for the opportunity. They're not taught to assert their needs, so they don't have a lot of practice."
To avoid getting burnt out, she advises you use assertive communication (not the passive, "Everything is fine" approach and then quietly quitting, but also not the aggressive, "If I don't get a raise, I'm quitting" mantra), to advocate for your needs and establish clear boundaries in the workplace.
"Go to your manager or higher up and describe the situation using only the facts," says Douglas. "It opens the door in a very non-threatening way so your manager can talk about problem- solving and be productive about how to fix it. Try something like: 'I put in 45 hours in the office, an additional 10 hours outside of work, and two hours commuting every week. It's taking a toll on me."
Not to mention, when it comes to your job, not being compensated properly often leads to other financial stressors outside of just work (hello, loans), so it's especially worth discussing if the stress leads to daily anxiety about how you're going to be able to make ends meet.
2. Leave perfection at the door.
While other generations like to label millennials as lazy, privileged, or irresponsible, we're not the slackers of the world.
"There's a huge amount of perfectionism in millennials," notes Douglas, "And sometimes that need to do things 'perfectly'—and those increasingly high standards—can be debilitating." Instead of allowing ourselves to get paralyzed by the pressure of perfection, Douglas says we should make a conscious effort to unlearn some of the unhealthy patterns and allow our work to stand on it's own—without it being absolutely 100% perfect all the time.
That unreasonable expectation and perpetual fear that lack of perfection equals failure only leads to a cycle of self-loathing. Do your best. It's okay.
3. Give yourself permission to say “no” to things that stress you out.
It's not rude or offensive to say no to things that you're unable to give your full attention to. Whether you're tired after a long work week and say "no" to those weekend plans or are upfront with your boss about not being able to take on a new project, all Millennials could learn the power of prioritizing how their energy is spent.
Douglas advises we analyze the things that stress us out in terms of their return on investment. When it comes to work, she says to consider if the hours put into a project are going to be important to the end product, or if we are clouding the end result by getting too caught up in the little details. She says that once that irritability creeps in, it may be worthwhile to say "no" to the task for a while, disengage, and come back later.
The same idea extends to how we prioritize our time outside of work. In the Meredith-partnered Harris poll, nearly half (49%) of the female respondents said that "work-life balance is a myth," and Douglas would agree.
"A huge disservice to the Millennial generation is this idea of work-life balance," she says. "It should be life-work balance, where life leads and we slot in work, but somehow it's become the other way around."
Therapist Katie Lear LPC, says we should all fiercely protect our time off, and activities like social media posting, scheduling, networking, or any other work-related activity should be done at a designated time during the workweek. "When you're off the clock, do your best not to engage in any work-related activity, and spend that time re-filling your own cup in whatever way works best for you: Socializing, getting sunlight, and exercising are a few things that are restorative for pretty much anyone."
4. Hold each other accountable.
"If you're burned out, there's a high chance your friends or your partner are burnt out too," notes Douglas.
We're getting to a point where burnout is almost normalized by society. Instead of championing the mindset of work over everything—and letting your friends get away with that, too—try scheduling all-important social time and making it a point to check in on one another. The more we can hold each another accountable for taking time to do things like practicing self-care and reconnecting with our communities, the happier and more productive we'll be in the long run.