How a pandemic has turned a generation of driven individuals on their heads... and emptied their wallets

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a generation of burnt-out millennials has risen from the ashes of the death of productivity and self-confidence. The blanket effect of an overwhelming feeling of mental and physical exhaustion has fallen on millions of individuals encompassed within a demographic bound to chase everything from employment opportunities to quick money grabs. 

Hey, man, anything to get ahead — am I right?

While headlines circulate about “the loneliest generation” and concern for the youth of America grows, the importance of self-care has come back into popular discourse.

Don’t forget to make time for yourself. Everyone knows we’ve had far too much of that lately...

At the hands of businesses and corporations masquerading under the claim of helping those in our 20s and 30s love and care for ourselves, millennials have become the generation of empty wallets, dissatisfaction and self-care burnout. Simply put, the face of resilience is changing, and those previously deemed as psychologically healthy and resilient are at high risk of plummeting off the edge as COVID burnout becomes more and more of a concern. 

For many of us, it’s hard to find time for many things, even the have-to-dos and the necessary daily chores. Forgot to do laundry? Didn’t have time? Looks like your dirty bluejeans will have to sit in that laundry hamper another week. 

In the middle of all of this chaos, how the hell are we supposed to care for ourselves?

Here’s another thing  to ponder: Recent college graduates are now being forced to come to terms with the fact that a failure to find employment in the professional world may be a prolonged issue far into 2022, and  the industries they dreamed to enter are struggling financially under the choking death grip of a pandemic-era economy. 

Whether it be hiring freezes, staffing shortages, or simply a loss of revenue, it’s difficult to accept that these hurdles may not be one’s fault. Nevertheless, one can imagine that feeling of repeated rejection and the cycle of “hurry up and wait” is damaging the spirits of many and chipping away at a generation’s self-confidence.

In an effort to feel any ounce of relief or emotional restoration, the rhetoric of taking care of one’s mental health keeps us pondering our next steps in the workplace and at home. With so many of us spending more time at home, we should be more critical of the brands who are masquerading under the umbrella term of “self-care” to profit heavily from the manufacturing and marketing of new product lines during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Corporations love to tell consumers that self-indulgence is valid, and we should therefore get in the habit of treating ourselves. But how far is too far, and how much should we prioritize the concept of treating oneself? 

The commercialization of self-care exhibits a striking similarity to brands that utilize rainbow-colored branding during Pride Month while simultaneously pushing for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. If a brand claims to value mental health and physical wellness, then it should go beyond promoting, say, dangerous fasting methods to “lose that unwanted COVID belly fat” and instead focus on what will improve overall well-being and self-esteem — especially during a time when so many of us are fragile, delicate grenades of pent up frustration and exhaustion, just waiting to blow. 

For many millennials, the quarter-life crisis is just around the corner — that is, if it’s not already here. 

Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand “goop” has previously circulated at the center of the conversation about self-care being commercialized in harmful ways, having settled lawsuits for products that supposedly help assist women with their sexual health and claim to prevent depression. In spring of 2019, Paltrow joked that she could “sell the company to Amazon,” which seems to prove that many brands claiming to be aligned with self-care and wellness may just be in it for the money. 

This concept is nothing new.

Nowadays, the idea of self-care has become practically unrecognizable from its original intentions. It is competitive and is becoming increasingly more expensive as millennials subconsciously play into the hands of corporations like Dove, Gillette, L’Oréal, goop and more.

Cosmetic and sexual health industries are guilty of playing into the irony that brands are well-aware that stressed, tired and insecure consumers are vulnerable to making emotionally-motivated purchases. Profiting off the effects of pandemic burnout is a business strategy that S&P 500 companies know all too well — but is there any shame involved? Perhaps not. Money talks, after all.

As busy human beings, the feeling of exhaustion, emotional stress and our inability to cope with minor inconveniences has characterized a generation conditioned to achieve higher levels of self-gratification, perfection and productivity. Why not purchase something that will make life a little less despicable?

While the origins of the term ’self-care’ are up for debate - the term was promoted by the medical community in the 1950s to characterize institutionalized individuals completing tasks and activities designed to serve as a method of self-improvement, such as grooming and maintaining personal hygiene. In the ‘90s, “self-care” often referred to the way that individuals could take responsibility for their own physical well-being in conjunction with doctor and pharmacist recommendations. Now, the advertising industry has managed to shift self-care away from this sort of introspection and self-awareness and toward an unreasonable level of consumer impulsivity. 

It doesn’t help that some of the mental health and wellness resources we often rely on are in short supply. With mandatory vaccinations now taking hold in the health care field, hospitals and health care agencies are finding themselves short-staffed, having to slash programs previously offered and scale down what is available to those seeking aid. 

Maybe your psychologist is all booked up or your physical therapist is in quarantine this week. Maybe you can’t get an appointment until next month. Maybe self-care and wellness is now 100 percent in your hands for the time being. So what will you do? Or rather — what will you buy?

Whatever you decide to do, the message these companies push is clear: consumers who fail to purchase such treats are depriving themselves, failing to meet their own needs, and will soon be left behind. 

With the official end of the pandemic still not in sight, this type of toxic commercialized rhetoric is not expected to disappear any time soon. Instead, we must be more  vigilent and aware of the fact that it exists and make the right decisions when it comes to taking care of our bodies and minds. 

Be careful out there.

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