COMMENT 💬

Friends,

May is Mental Health Month in Canada 🇨🇦, dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues 💙 and promoting mental well-being 🧠. Canadians are feeling anxious 😟 and stressed 😫 about their careers 💼 and the economy 💰.💭

We're discussing how to better understand burnout and why it has increased in the post-pandemic world of remote and hybrid work. 🏠💻 We also talk about how the game is rigged if you are a woman or a marginalized person. 🚫👩🏽‍💼 Systemic structures are mainly to blame for burnout, not you. ⚠️ Content creators have the added stress of becoming the product when they find success with audiences and how this amplifies their burnout because of fear of failure. 📈🎨

""" 📢 Coming soon! 📢

Spinning Forward will be experimenting with short-form audio and video content based on audience feedback. 🎧🎥 If you like longer, more in-depth stories like the one about online hate and harassment or burnout, please let us know. We plan to publish one long-form story per quarter and will opt for more short stories at a higher frequency different formats. 📅

If you have any story ideas set in the Toronto region, feel free to reply to this email or drop us a message at 📧 info@spinningforward.com. We're excited to hear from you! 😊

Reading Time: 14 minutes

Flavian DeLima

Publisher & Editor, Spinning Forward

IN THIS ISSUE 🪧

➡️ Content Creators Feel Burnt Out 📱😫

➡️ Understanding Burnout? 🤔🔥

➡️ Burnout's Toll on Women in Canada 🇨🇦😞

➡️ Systemic Issues, Not Individual Failures, Cause Burnout 🏢⚠️

QUOTE OF THE WEEK 📜

"Other countries have social safety nets, we [USA] have women. You can't meditate your way out of a 40 day work week and no child care."

Pooja Lakshmin (@PoojaLakshmin) speaking at Mount Saint Mary's University, Los Angeles, Author of Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness

SPOTLIGHT 💡🔦

Burnout is a signal, not a failure

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This is the first part of a two-part series on burnout.

In Part 1, we will understand what burnout is, the added pressure on content creators, why it's so common in society, and why it is more problematic for women and marginalized communities.

In Part 2, we will talk to experts about how to recover from and prevent burnout, as well as how local content creators handle it.

In the post-pandemic workplace, remote and hybrid work has become the new normal. The lines between when work starts and ends are less clear today for people who work remotely. Burnout doesn't care where you work; instead, it depends on how exhausted, cynical, unfair, and overwhelmed you feel about your work. A Gallup 2023 report found that, "worldwide, 44% of employees said they experienced a lot of stress the previous day."

A 2024 LinkedIn and Microsoft study across 31 countries found that 46% of people want to quit their jobs in the next 12 months. In Canada, the CanTrust Index published by Proof Strategies in February 2024 reported that 67 percent of Canadians say the economy has increased their anxiety and stress. While burnout has historically been associated with work, we explore how it has affected mothers who quit their jobs during the pandemic.


The Price of Visibility: YouTuber Elle Mills' Struggle with Mental Health and Success

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In 2018, 18-year-old Filipino-Canadian Elle Mills (@ElleOfTheMills), who lives in Ottawa, started the year with 300,000 subscribers on YouTube. She had been making videos since 2012 at the age of 12. By the end of 2018, she had reached 1.5 million subscribers. That year, she won a Shorty Award for Breakout YouTuber of the Year.

In high school, Mills found her YouTube voice by combining personal storytelling with humor and a cinematic approach. When asked to describe her content, Mills said, “Imagine if Ferris Bueller had a YouTube channel". In May 2018, she released a video called Burnt out at 19 where she tries to figure out why she was feeling so miserable despite being at the peak of her YouTube career.

"This is all I ever wanted. And why the %&$% am I so un%&$%ing unhappy? It doesn’t make any sense. You know what I mean? Because, like, this is literally my %&$%ing dream. And I’m %&$%ing so un-%&$%ing happy. It doesn't make any %&$%ing sense!"

Mills took a break from YouTube to look after her mental health and stopped posting videos regularly. In 2023, she wrote a personal essay for The New York Times titled "YouTube Gave Me Everything. Then I Grew Up." She explained the dilemma she and most young content creators face when they become known. It's that they themselves become the product before they get to know themselves and what they want in life.

The Dilemma of Online Culture

Mills describes the conundrum of finding success while young and trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

On the one hand, most aspiring creators dream of getting known and being able to share some part of their authentic self online. Mills' success meant being authentic and visible, which resonated with people. As she grew, her subscribers and followers increased. With visibility came more regular payments from platforms and more profitable brand partnerships and collaborations. The increased visibility boosted Mills’ self-esteem and self-image to new highs. The more views she got, the more validation she felt.

On the other hand, the cost of success and constant pressure to get more views led to Mills having regular panic attacks. Content creators and other creative professionals like actors often face the problem of becoming typecast for content that made them famous. Audiences have an insatiable appetite for similar content, which creates lots of pressure if creators want to make something different. In Mills’ case, her audience wanted more Ferris Bueller-like videos. Like any normal young adult, Mills was changing, growing, and interested in different things. In her essay, she talks about the challenge of becoming a product that audiences embrace while wanting to change and lean into your next or future self. The problem is that the audience doesn’t always like the next version of you, which means fewer views, less validation, and more self-doubt.

"When an audience becomes emotionally invested in a version of you that you outgrow, keeping the product you’ve made aligned with yourself becomes an impossible dilemma. Changing an online persona is something at which few have been successful, so most are too scared to risk their livelihoods and try. Staying unchanged brings its own challenges — stagnancy, inauthenticity, burnout. The instability brought by growing up is what commonly makes this career path short-lived."

Professional Success Means Experimenting in Your Twenties

We covered the challenge of specializing too early in your career in a previous article of Spinning Forward. In David Epstein's book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, he says a young person’s personality changes more between eighteen and their late twenties than at any other time in their life. It's crucial during this period to remain open and try new things based on your interests. The offshoot is that you learn about yourself by learning what you're good and bad at. Epstein has a quote in his book about a career strategy everyone, especially young people, should follow.

"We learn who we are in practice, not in theory."

Epstein argues in his book that people who start as generalists and explore broadly tend to have more successful and fulfilling careers. By delaying specialization and keeping options open, you have a better chance of adapting if one path doesn't work out in an environment where jobs and roles change quickly.

Beyond Burnout: Elle Mills' Journey from YouTube to Writing and Directing

After Mills burnt out, she was able to take a long and private break without needing to please others. She got help for her mental health and began exploring different interests and paths. Not needing to perform and meet audience or societal expectations allowed Mills to experiment, fail and succeed until she stumbled onto her next best and future self. In 2023, Mills resurfaced and made a YouTube video called "What Happened to Elle Mills?"She explained that she was taking a permanent break from YouTube and was now a full-time writer and film director. Compared to her “Burnt out at 19” video, Mills looks happy, hopeful, and energized.

Her debut film, Reply, won a Buffer Festival Award in 2022.


Content Creators Feel Burnt Out

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In a 2021 New York Times article, titled "Young Creators Are Burning Out and Breaking Down," many Gen Z influencers who achieved success felt overwhelmed by the numerous tasks required of content creators, such as shooting and editing videos, engaging with fans, and handling marketing, sales, and business responsibilities.

Video editing company Tasty Edits conducted a global creator survey in 2023 with 29,000 content creators participating. Of those surveyed, 20% were from Canada. The survey found that three-quarters of creators experience stress or anxiety because of activities related to content creation. Two in ten creators are stressed very often. Additionally, four in five creators have experienced burnout.

According to the Creator Mental Health Report published by social media management platform Later in 2023, 43% of content creators say they suffer from burnout. Furthermore, 29% say they struggle with it on a daily or weekly basis. The main reason cited is that creators feel they have to be constantly "on" for audiences and for social media platforms. This constant pressure results in a blurred line between work-life balance.


Understanding Burnout: What is it?

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The World Health Organization in 2019 defined burnout not as a medical issue but instead as a state resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. First coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, he said burnout mostly affected "the dedicated and the committed." It is associated with emotional work that requires empathy but is linked with exhausting working conditions in healthcare, social work, education, and other helping sectors and occupations.

Psychologist Dr. Christina Maslach is a worldwide expert in job burnout and author of "The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs". Like Freudenberger, she found that people who burn out suffer from three dimensions, namely exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. They affect how a person views their work and themselves.

1) Emotional Exhaustion means feeling overextended and drained emotionally and physically because you've used up your resources.

2) Cynicism involves a depletion of empathy and compassion and also having a detached and negative attitude towards one's job.

3) Inefficacy is a sense of not doing well and feeling unable to cope with the demands of the job.

Maslach found that burnout is not caused by one factor but by a combination of factors like workload, lack of control, insufficient rewards, breakdown of community, absence of fairness, and conflict between personal values and job demands.


Who feels most burnt out in the Canadian workplace?

A 2023 survey by the Harris Poll found that 78% of Canadian employees say they felt burnt out at some point in their careers. About 40 per cent of Canadians reported feeling burnt out in the past year, according to a survey by Robert Half. Canadians who report the highest levels of burnout are Gen Z and millennials, newer employees between two and fours years as well as working parents. In a 2023 report on mental health and wellbeing, the Boston Consulting Group found that young Canadians are burning out at work because stress is going unchecked. It is causing a mental health national epidemic with costs exceeding $200 billion annually.


Employees globally feel burnt out, stuck and undervalued at work in 2024

A 2024 LinkedIn and Microsoft study across 31 countries found that 46% of people want to quit their jobs in the next 12 months, compared to 40% during the Great Resignation in 2021. In the US, 59% of employees "feel stuck and wish they could do something new, but haven’t (yet) made the leap” while 51% feel burnt out from their job.


Burnout's Toll on Women in Canada

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In an opinion article for The Globe & Mail titled "Exhausted, burnt-out and disillusioned: Why millennial women are not okay," Ann Hui says that Gen Z and Millennial women between 25 and 45 years have experienced a unique kind of burnout in recent years due to the confluence of extraordinary events. For example, about 100,000 Canadian women dropped out of the labor force in the first year of the pandemic. More than 75% of Canadian women in the past year have considered quitting their jobs.

Millennial women are part of the sandwich generation. This means they have a dual role of simultaneously caring for children and aging parents. Hui writes that despite having supportive spouses to share household duties, women are still strongly associated as society's caregivers and therefore more prone to burning out.

"Millennial women are exhausted. Disillusioned. Let down after a lifetime of being told that we – yes, we – could have it all. At work, we feel unsupported, undervalued. At home, we’re still expected to take on the heavier load of housework. Everywhere we turn, the message is this: That no matter how much we work, there’s always more to do."


How Emotional Exhaustion Burns You Out

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In their 2019 book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, twin sisters Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski further explore the emotional exhaustion component of burnout. Emotional exhaustion is strongly associated with negative impacts on our health and relationships, both in and outside the workplace.

Emotions at their most basic level are psychological and physiological responses to a stimulus. For example, your brain releases different chemicals when you see someone you have a romantic crush on. Various physiological changes are triggered, like your heart beating faster, your stomach fluttering, feeling anxious, excited, and warm inside.

Emotions constantly happen, and it's normal to experience many at the same time with one stimulus like seeing a crush. The authors believe that emotions are like tunnels with a beginning, middle, and end. Left on their own devices, most emotions get to the end, which means you see the light at the end of the tunnel. In other words, you don’t burn out.

Exhaustion happens when you get stuck in an emotion. For example, when you return to a stressful job each day and long for a more fulfilling job, you experience emotional exhaustion.During the pandemic, millions of helping professions who work in healthcare, teaching, and parenting were forced to care for others. Many felt stuck and trapped in an emotional "tunnel" because caring for others daily felt like it would never end.The Nagoski sisters have a name for the condition where someone feels perpetually emotionally exhausted, trapped, unable to reach end of tunnel.They call it "Human Giver Syndrome".


The Toll of The Human Giver Syndrome

The "Human Giver Syndrome" concept comes from Kate Manne's book, "Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny". It is based on the idea that society expects certain groups of people to act as givers. The givers, usually women and marginalized people, must sacrifice their own well-being and mental health for the betterment of the group above them. It should be noted that some men are givers but most fall into the dominant group.

For example, research shows that time and effort spent on childcare and housekeeping has a stark difference between men and women. Globally, for ever hour and half that men spend, women spend forty hours. In Canada, the US and the UK, women spend 50% more time than men performing these unpaid duties.


Systemic Issues, Not Individual Failures, Cause Burnout

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South Asian psychiatrist Pooja Lakshmin, and author of "Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness," uses the word "women" throughout her book. It's meant to include all marginalized people who endure oppressive conditions and have been conditioned to put the needs and preferences of others over their own. Earlier in the pandemic, she wrote an opinion in The New York Times titled, "How Society Has Turned Its Back on Mothers," saying

"The more my patients use the term “burnout,” the more I think it doesn’t capture the depth of despair they describe. These are mothers who are faced with impossible choices: sending their child to school, and risking viral exposure, or not showing up to work; plopping their child down in front of a screen just to get a moment of peace."

Rather than focusing on burnout through individual blame and guilt, Lakshmin believes systemic issues are at fault. Societal choices force women and marginalized people to make tough decisions based on unrealistic expectations, constant pressure to multitask, and undervaluing the importance of true self-care with collective support and action.

While burnout is associated with blaming individuals for not being resilient enough, Lakshmin argues that the culprit and blame is societal betrayal. Betrayal refers to a breakdown in structures. Systems of oppression such as racism, toxic capitalism, sexism, and ableism are ingrained in the everyday lives of marginalized people.

Lakshmin criticizes the popular self-care narrative that focuses on individuals overcoming burnout through personal efforts like bubble baths, spas, cleanses, mindfulness, and yoga. Instead, she advocates for collective action and structural changes that support genuine and long-term self-care and well-being.

The goal and objectives are for all of us, the collective, to persuade community and business leaders and politicians to change policies by addressing the root causes of burnout in communities, homes, and workplaces for the millions of “givers” who live on the margins.


In Part 2 of the burnout series, we talk to experts about how to recover from and prevent burnout and how creators of color handle burnout.