Burning Out Young: An Excerpt From 'Anxiety,' by Sonali Gupta

A snippet shared by the author, Sonali Gupta of her new book. 

Published30 Jun 2020, 06:51 AM IST
Mind It
4 min read

Book: Anxiety - Overcome it and Live Without Fear

Author: Sonali Gupta

Publisher: HarperCollins

Twenty-seven-year old Marissa is a bubbly, happy-go-lucky girl heading communications and branding in her company. She reached out to me because she feels that she is failing at ‘adulting’. Quick to defend herself, she says, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the most hard-working employees in my organization. My bosses love me, and I have just got a promotion. But when it comes to staying in touch with friends, paying bills, meeting people and taking care of myself, I’m such a failure.’ Teary-eyed, she adds, ‘I just want to learn how to relax and love myself. I want to be in relationships and enjoy them. I feel sorry for not doing enough for the environment and disappointing my parents. My problems seem so First World, and I feel guilty about that. I’m constantly exhausted and unable to enjoy my success. I don’t like myself but there are days when I wonder, am I making all this up in my head?’

Just like Malini Mahale—whose family encouraged her to follow her passion, which led her to a prestigious job at a multinational company, six-figure salary and poised on the brink of collapse— Marissa is exhausted by the pressure to do everything she needs to. She’s worked for the past 12 years; at age fifteen, she landed her first job as an intern at a magazine. She’s worked every summer since then until she landed her first full-time job, having been raised by working parents who emphasized the importance of giving back to society. Despite her supportive parents, and an understanding boyfriend, Marissa can’t sleep, binge-eats, and is totally disillusioned with her life.

This feeling of loss of control that characterizes what both Marissa and Malini are going through is what Anne Helen Petersen called the ‘Millennial Burnout’ in a BuzzFeed article that went viral in 2019.

While the phenomenon of burnout has existed for years (I’ve discussed it in the chapter on workplace anxiety) it manifests differently in millennials, which is why it finds a place here. Over the last, seven to ten years, with the growth of the gig economy, start-ups, and technology, several millennials, and Gen Zs are getting an early start at work. I recall a Gen Z client telling me how his first job was at age fourteen; another millennial, who was twenty-eight, said she had ten years of work experience under her belt. As a result, young people today are facing their first and, subsequently, second burnout in quick succession.

In my experience, that first burnout tends to get overlooked. To help you understand this better, here’s an analogy—imagine you’re on the verge of the flu. At times, you may have a slight fever for two days and not even realize it. The fact that everyone around you is tired and feeling disillusioned kind of normalizes this burnout. Most millennials who start jobs by age twenty-one reach their first burnout when they are about twenty-six or twenty-seven years old. Their second burnout is generally between age twenty-nine and thirty-years. This is usually the time when most people reach out for help and almost believe in its legitimacy since they now feel that a decade of work has taken a toll on them.

These are common causes of millennial burnout:

  • Cognitive overload, when you feel bombarded and overwhelmed with information whether it’s about work or on social media.

  • Death by social comparison.

  • Inability to rest.

  • Normalizing multitasking, forgetting the brain is not equipped to constant stimulation.

  • Struggle with sleep and bedtime procrastination.

  • The constant pressure to strike a work-life balance daily. Earlier generations looked forward to two days of relaxation after a five-day workweek; millennials feel the need to have enough downtime for recreation every day, which is problematic.

  • A consistent belief that one is not doing enough, accompanied by the feeling that one is not contributing to larger world problems.

From Errand Paralysis to Impostor Syndrome, several of the mental health conditions that I’ve highlighted in this chapter are examples of how burnout shows up in millennials. It’s also true that these conditions can contribute or lead up to burnout. It’s often hard to decide what led to what.

However, just because we don’t have a template for millennial burnout does not mean we can dismiss the concerns this generation born into technology struggles with. By trivializing their worries, we are creating a culture of shame and rebellion.

The only way to deal with or prevent this burnout is to make lifestyle changes and build structural resilience, instead of short-term superficial changes.

Limited social connections, loneliness and increasing dependence on technology are evolving issues that need to be addressed and tackled at a collective level to develop greater resilience within society.

Excerpted with permission from Anxiety: Overcome It and Live without Fear by Sonali Gupta, published by HarperCollins India.

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