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The ECC Blog

Pastor Briefing: The Problem of Burnout

In an interview titled, How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, dated December 3, 2020 at vox.com, author Anne Helen Petersen talks about the pervasive problem of burnout among the millennial generation.  The millennials are often defined as the generation of children born between 1981 – 1996.  Anne Petersen is herself a millennial.  

She describes the millennials as those who have “never quite been able to find any stability, economic or otherwise.”  Petersen especially traces the economic plight of millennials to the recession of 2008-2009, and the problem of debt, especially growing educational debt with which millennials are saddled.  

She observes that work itself has expanded because of technology.  Everyone is affected by the new reality that with a laptop and a smart-phone, many jobs can be accomplished from anywhere at any time.  It is increasingly difficult to maintain boundaries between work and home and this contributes to the problem of burnout. 

Petersen also believes the prominence of digital social media is an important contributing factor to millennial burnout.  She argues that social media, like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, tempt people to turn their lives into a brand and having done so, they exhaust themselves trying to maintain the brand they have created.   

She describes burnout as a condition that goes beyond physical exhaustion which can be addressed with a meal and sleep.  Burnout is “what happens when you live without any margin for error.”  It is “the feeling that you’ve hit the wall exhaustion-wise, but then have to scale the wall and just keep going.”  

Petersen does not offer much in the way of solutions (at least in this interview).  Any solution begins with identifying the problem and causes of personal burnout.  Once the burnout is recognized, it is possible to make different choices especially with respect to the consumption of social media.  

As I reflected on this interview, I think she is tapping into a huge problem that’s not just an issue for millennials, but for many individuals and households beyond the millennial generation.  It is the ongoing problem of overloaded lives leading to an epidemic of stress, anxiety, and depression.  

Some of the questions that Christians need to ask in this regard are, “What am I placing my trust in?”  Am I trusting God to guide, direct, and provide for me or am I looking to solve my own problems?  Do I show evidence of this trust and obedience in the way I use my time and money? Are there idols that are getting in the way of my faithfulness to the Lord and others?  

Some further questions include: Am I honoring the Lord in my use of time?  Am I taking seriously my need to take one day in seven as a Sabbath, a day dedicated to worship and rest?  You say, “I don’t have time for a Sabbath!”  But understand the logic of the Sabbath.  The idea is this, that when we honor God and take one day for worship and rest, He will add His blessing to the other six days such that a blessed six days will be more fruitful than an unblessed seven.  

Richard Swenson offers additional wisdom in his book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.  His basic thesis is that most people operate right up to the margin of their lives without holding something back in reserve for the unanticipated situations that arise.  He believes that most people are trying to live at 120% all the time.  

Swenson is convinced that we need to build ‘margin’ into our lives so that we have the reserves we need to meet the unanticipated challenges that God brings.  This especially includes margins of finances and time.  

As we journey through 2021 in the midst of a pandemic, we should not squander the opportunity for reflection, to deeply consider how we may need to restore biblical order into our chaotic lives.