On burnout: Is it really just millennials?

The past few months, while the world has been responding to the truly unprecedented COVID crisis, I've found myself thinking a lot about burnout. This is a topic that has been at the forefront of discussion for a while now, largely due to Anne Helen Petersen's millennial burnout article in Buzzfeed. I reread the article recently, and couldn't help but wonder how different the article might of been had it been written today. Is it possible that "burnout" might be a label that is no longer synonymous with millennials, but extends to all of us?

The past four years have been exhausting for many of us, but the past few months have taken a toll that hasn't really been seen in decades in America. It's not just COVID either--police brutality, the upcoming election, the continued degradation of the environment--all of these various issues have taken on a new urgency. One would think it would mean that our society is on the precipice of revolution, but instead it seems as though these crises have brought out an overwhelming passivity in Americas. It's as though we're so exhausted, we can barely even acknowledge the critical nature of what is happening before us.

The most striking example for me has been our reaction to COVID. When the crisis first began in March, there was a brief period of time where it felt as though everyone was working together in unison--desperately trying to get numbers down, to give hospital staff the time they needed. But two months in, and folks on both sides of the aisle were eager to return to their daily routine--restaurants, movies, work, parties. COVID was like a fashion trend that everyone decided was over at the same time.

I believe that people felt tired and scared, and were desperate to return to a life without inconveniences. So instead of listening to science, they have decided to pretend that the crisis is over. Needless to say, this gives me little hope that our nation will ever be capable of providing a reasonable response to climate change. But it also made me realize that these symptoms sound so familiar to the diagnosis of burnout described by Petersen. Perhaps it's not just millennials, but an entire nation that is truly burnt out. And maybe if we're able to acknowledge that, then we can take the first steps towards fixing it.