Discovery Project

Burnout Introduction 

In the age of social media and post-pandemic life, a big topic of conversation has been mental health. Gen-Z has been a big driving force in opening up the conversation around mental health. Isolation and troubles with money, family, school, and work had all been emphasized during the pandemic.

In the age of everything digital, access to information has also created an environment rich in hate, division, and distress. This has been reflected in younger generations growing up in spaces filled with so much noise. 

Looking at different social media platforms, a lot of the well-thought-out conversations are happening on Reddit, which is where I found most of the information for this project. From reading different Reddit threads, most of the people driving the conversation are people in their late teens to early 30s. As these conversations are on Reddit, I didn’t use hashtags to find conversations, but I did use ‘burnout’ as my keyword to find these conversations surrounding burnout and college burnout. 

What are people feeling exactly?

With so much going on in the world, the mental health of Gen-Z and Millenials has been negatively impacted and has resulted in more open conversations about wellness. Many people on these Reddit platforms shared their feeling worn out and not being able to function properly. 

On a forum specific to college burnout, I saw a consistent theme of wanting a break and school being too much for them. A lot of the people felt that they had too much on their plate. 

The main Reddit post I followed started off by expressing, “Is anyone else feeling burned out in college? I’m a third year, and I feel like it’s hard to focus on my classes. I just want a break. I’ve grinded out my first two years getting good marks, but now I feel… exhausted,” said @kaytherine. “I’ve never had a break from school. Over the break, I study. Every summer, I’ve taken STEM classes. I wish time could stop for me to catch my breath. Does anyone else feel this way? Any tips on balancing school with mental health needs? I just want to enjoy school again.” 

Many others commented below, agreeing and adding that they feel overworked and struggle to engage and keep up with their online classes.

For example, @where_r_theavocados said, “…I haven’t had a semester off because I always take classes during the summer, also completely burnt out and exhausted. I’ve felt this way since last fall semester. Assignments and attending online lectures are much more exhausting than they used to be, I feel like every day is the same.” 

Looking at another forum, user @ADignifiedLife said, “can’t keep up this burnout cycle forever. It needs to end sooner or later.” and followed with a screenshot of this tweet

This thread discussed burnout in a general sense, mostly in their daily lives. @sunshine-thewerewolf said, “I legit find so very little happiness in life anymore. It all seems utterly pointless at the moment. I can’t even sit and enjoy playing video games without feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of problematic sh*t that is going on…. ”

Many others commented that they find it hard to complete basic tasks and lack the desire to focus on their hobbies. One user said they even find it hard to focus on every aspect of their lives and have to force themselves daily to complete college. The same person added that the pandemic has made this struggle worse.

Why are so many people burned out?

Albert Einstein College of Medicine said burnout can be caused by highly demanding work, lack of sleep, family demands, limited to no physical exercise, poor time management, etc. Pandemic-related stressors have also added to a lack of motivation and energy and general emotional exhaustion. 

Connecting this definition to the anecdotes of people in the Reddit forums, many seem to get overwhelmed with their workload or with what is happening in their lives. Many seemed to have been in a constant state of overload. This path can lead to not taking care of yourself, mentally and physically.

An article from Vox put it this way, “Burnout almost made sense earlier in the pandemic. There was so much change and chaos, who wouldn’t feel burned out?” 

In a video by PBS NewsHour, Riana Elyse Anderson, an assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan, said “over the past year, we have watched stress, anxiety, and depression go up about fourfold for everyone. And that absolutely includes our young folks. So, whether these are pediatric populations or the collegiate population, we’re watching this number just balloon, and that’s on top of what we saw even as a pattern before COVID.” 

Not only was mental health in college students declining pre-pandemic, but it got worse during the pandemic. Anderson said there was a lack of human connection during the pandemic. Now post-pandemic, many are struggling to find community and expose themselves to things that they didn’t have to during the pandemic. This process can make it more difficult if employers or professors don’t acknowledge that the world has changed and standards may need to evolve to the current times.   

Anderson also added that social media allows, younger generations, like Gen Z, to compare themselves to how other people on social media are performing in school.

What can be done to help? 

According to the American Psychological Association, in 2021, a Work and Well-being Survey of 1,501 U.S. adult workers showed that 79% of employees had experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey.

Yet, there is not one cure-all for burnout.

However, there are some lifestyle changes that can help ease the exhaustion felt. Mayo Clinic recommends opening up to your friends, family, and co-workers and discussing solutions or compromises you can make in your life. It also states that relaxing activities, exercising, sleeping, and practicing mindfulness can help with stress and help take your mind off of work, school, etc. 

A Fox31 video gives tips such as taking time off work, taking time for self-care: exercising, eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, remaining socially active, and creating healthy work-life boundaries. For instance, not taking work home or knowing when to stop working off the clock and taking that time for yourself. 

If you feel overworked, you may need to have a conversation with your manager, professor, counselor, or therapist to figure out how to better manage your work life. 

Create boundaries between your personal life and work or school and test different methods to see what works for you and what doesn’t. Recognize your feelings and start focusing on ways that can help you feel less stressed. Take a break and do what makes you feel better. 

Nadia Whittome, a member of the UK’s parliament, spoke out on a recent study on a 4-day work week. 

Discussions are happening across the globe on how to better the mental health of everyone. Even suggesting a 4-day work week. In an American Psychological Association study with senior HR leaders, granting flexible work hours was the most effective way to avoid burnout. This could translate to a shorter work week, day, or more vacation.

Moving Forward

Across the world, specifically in the U.S., people are feeling exhausted and have no energy to give to their job or education, let alone their personal lives. 

There are pressures in the social world that impact how harshly we treat ourselves. Many are working or studying for long hours and barely making time to focus on their hobbies. The work-life balance in the U.S. is showing its true colors and the conversation is being led by Millennials and Gen Z. A 2020 Gallup survey showed the U.S. had some of the highest levels of burnout. 

Is it the system or is it a boundary we cross individually? It could be both. There are higher expectations we hold ourselves to and that we hold others to as well. Now, there is a social arena to showcase the unrealistic lives and accomplishments of others. 

The pandemic has heightened the mental health crisis and change needs to happen soon.

According to Denver Health, “similar to emotions, the stress cycle is caused by work stressors but is often not completed because we do not address the root of the stress.”

By organizing work or school, our personal lives, and making sure there are boundaries set, steps can be taken to better our mental health.