After over half the year of living with the virus, Irish people have been told to prepare themselves for at least another six to nine months of COVID-19 restrictions. As people around the world continue to cope with our collective ‘new normal’, the looming threat of the pandemic, economic instability, and political unrest, many are feeling fatigued from months of daily anxiety. We are trudging on working from home, with fewer social outlets available to blow off steam. People are feeling what can only be described as burnt out.
‘Burn Out’ is a relatively new term in psychology, coined by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974. It describes a ‘mental and physical exhaustion’ most often caused by a draining professional life. Over the last few years, the term has risen in popularity, especially regarding its prominence among millennials—a generation prone to perfectionism and career stress. A new survey from The Office Group found that the average age to experience burnout is only 32. Burnout was already a perpetual concern for the modern workforce. However, the conditions of the pandemic have left people feeling even more squeezed. In another survey by IrishJobs.ie, 44% of those working from home have found that they are working longer hours than they would normally. In the United States, a national poll in August found that 58% of US workers reported burnout, up 13% from a poll in April. Healthcare workers and others on the frontlines are, of course, particularly vulnerable to burnout, working long shifts and carrying an extra emotional burden.
Nonetheless, there is a modest silver lining. Mental health awareness has reached unprecedented levels. The UN was quick to urge governments around the world to prioritise matters of mental health, as were WHO. Social media, for all its negative mental health consequences, has also become a place where people share their mental health experiences, and exchange tips for mindfulness and self-care. In fact, the rise in political activism on social media has also given way to a rise in positive mental health content. Users participating in these activist spaces give each other permission to take breaks from bombardment of the news cycle and encourage space for rest and reflection. They understand self-care as essential for not getting burnt out in the long term.
From the darkly humorous memes about anxiety and depression on Twitter, to widespread government campaigns, as a society, we are taming the stigma and becoming more literate about mental health. The general understanding of ‘mental health’ as a concept is moving from something strictly medical and ‘other’, to something that everyone must manage. In a Global PWC Survey, 69% of respondents reported to be more focused on ‘their mental health and wellbeing’ than before the pandemic. We have seen how various lockdown trends such as skincare, crafting and online fitness classes can be traced back to mental health and selfcare. Scented candle sales are up, and consumers have taken an increased interest in products such as weighted blankets and acupressure mats. However, the role for brands can be broader than simply selling a stress reducing product.
Firstly, business leaders need to take an active role in preventing burnout among their own employees. This means being empathetic and anticipating the burdens staff are shouldering, especially those with caretaking roles at home. Experts in workplace burnout suggest that, while it may be tempting to schedule generic team yoga classes, the best solutions are specific to your workforce and usually boil down to managing workloads. What about consumers then? How should brands relate to an anxious population? While every person’s situation is unique, there are wider issues, such as pandemic safety, climate crisis, and human rights piling on top. Demonstrate how you are striving to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Nowadays, it is imperative that you give consumers reassurance and a genuine reason to trust you.