You would be hard pressed to find someone in 2020 that hasn’t felt burnout in some capacity. Increasingly high expectations through school and university translate to the assumption every individual will thrive in their career, maintain a high level of socialising and of course, still be reasonably active and able to prioritise their health…the hustle is well and truly real. “Having it all” is no longer a pipe dream, but a lifestyle expectation for millennials and centennials.
But is this lifestyle contributing to burnout? How do we know if we have it? And what effect is this having on our mental health? We spoke to Sara Kuburic (the @millenial.therapist), a PhD researcher and existential psychotherapist to learn about how burnout affects young people, how to identify it and whether prevention is even possible in this day and age.
“Realistically, I don’t think many people will go through life never having experienced burnout,” says Kuburic. “However, I do believe that there [are things] we can do to prevent it from becoming cyclical or perpetual. Prevention and coping are not the only options, healing can happen too.”
What contributes to burnout?
“I believe that we have begun to reshape our societal landscape,” explains Kuburic. “We have begun to redefine success, work and relationships in a way that vastly differ from previous generations. However, with this [new] approach, we have also managed to morph self-improvement and our new-found freedom into a set of unrealistic expectations…Unfortunately, I think we have bought into the notion that we can have it all, and have spent little time reflecting on what that would actually mean and the potential negative repercussions,” she says.
As Kuburic explains, this mentality works as a major contributor to burnout. “Helplessness is a strong trigger for burnout because it tends to stifle an individual’s sense of agency and it can make a person feel like their efforts no longer hold any value or meaning.” Similarly, imposter syndrome can play an important role. “We [often] over extend ourselves in an effort to prove our own worth,” says Kuburic. This plays into the physical ways we contribute to burnout – such as lack of nutrition, exercise, sleep and even dehydration.
How can someone identify if they are burnt out?
Before healing however, comes recognizing and identifying the potential symptoms of burnout. “Because burnout can co-occur with depression and anxiety (and some symptoms even overlap) it could be difficult to tell them apart,” says Kuburic.
Physical, mental and emotional symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, withdrawal from friends and family, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, as well as change in mood, change in sleep patterns and a weakened immune system.
What is involved in the healing process?
The context in which someone experiences burnout is important, explains Kuburic, as it will determine how one can cope and heal from it. “For example, if it’s experienced as a result of work, it could be helpful to have an individual explore their identity outside of their professional role. This can be achieved by actively practicing self-care, pursuing self-awareness, nurturing meaningful relationships and enforcing life-work boundaries.”
On a more general level, however, Kuburic suggests practicing acceptance and gratitude, letting go of unrealistic expectations and to stop comparing yourself to others. Setting boundaries that protect your needs and staying connected to your meaning and purpose, will also help stop the manifestation of symptoms of burnout.
“[Seeing] an increase in energy levels, a more positive and hopeful attitude, and a more connected and intimate way of interacting with themselves, others and the world,” are signs to look for in recovery from burnout, explains Kuburic.
So, while burnout is almost unavoidable, coping and healing is not. Identifying any detrimental beliefs that may be fuelling burnout and giving yourself permission to make changes and walk away (jobs and relationships, included) are key to feeling your best and happiest…and that’s on mental health.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms in extremes, please seek professional help or by visiting Headspace.