“Change Fatigue” and What To Do About It

13.11.19

When my older sister was living in London a couple of years ago, there was a term her and her friends used a lot: “Change fatigue”.

It was at a time when the UK was in the thick of Brexit maniasomething that had been looming over the heads of Brits ever since the referendum in 2016 but was now starting to feel more like two dumbbells permanently sitting on either shoulder. And of course it wasn’t just the weight of Brexit that was making them tired, it was the increasing chatter about stuff like climate change, a new and relentless pursuit of wellness, conversations about the economy and who it was working for, as well as debates about power, who had it, and who was abusing it. “Change fatigue”, as I understand it, was the way the constant stream of news was making Char and her friends feel; as though every day they were woken up by something else that needed changing. Changes to the way they voted and engaged in politics. Changes to their diet. Changes to the businesses they supported, the transport they used, the milk they put in their coffee, the exercise they did, the protests they attended, the petitions they signed. Each day came with a fresh change that they were required to make if they were to participate appropriately in modern culture.

It’s a concept I’m familiar with – not just in my private life as a type A psychopath hell-bent on a kind of self-improvement that demands I’m not only the best version of myself but also that I am liked by *literally everybody*, but also in my career under The Twenties Club where I’m in this constant state of negotiation with my inner conscious about whether I’m “speaking out” on enough issues. Am I positively contributing to public discourse about important causes? Have I said enough? Is it okay if I say nothing? If I don’t publicly comment on something, how will readers know I care? When I brought this up with Char she said: “We could also call this whole thing “care fatigue”. My friends and I often wonder if it’s okay to not care about every single global issue? Is Because if we were to actively care about everything we’re told to care about, there’d be no time left for the “living” part! For careers and relationships and family. I guess a better question to ask – and I don’t know the answer – is: Can you be an ally to multiple causes instead of a champion for everything?”

She has a point. Is it possible to live in a culture where it’s okay for us to pick our battles and not be criticised for it? Could a guy, for example, admit to being impartial to the whole “feminist” thing but a huge advocate for sustainability? Would that be acceptable? I’d like to think so. And maybe there-in lies the remedy for change fatigue; maybe we just need some boundaries. In the same way a successful relationship or marriage is built on healthy boundaries, if we are to prevent change fatigue becoming change burnout, I think we need some personal parameters around how we engage with the news. I’m not going to tell you what your boundaries should be because it will look different to everyone, but a good place to start would be to take a step back and identify what triggers change fatigue in you. Maybe it’s the constant coverage of American politics. Maybe it’s the borderline-fanatical “body positivity” movement that not only says we’re banned from *not liking* our bodies, but we actually have to publicly (!) celebrate them (wouldn’t it be a hell of a lot easier if society just let us all be impartial to our appearance?). Basically, figure out what you’d prefer to lean away from in order to lean into what matters to you.

Because, the risk if we don’t? Char had some thoughts here too: “An adjacent point to all of this is that we don’t so much risk becoming overwhelmed or burnt out, but more we’re at risk of becoming desensitized. I feel it every time I see one of Trump’s problematic tweets and notice how little it rattles me anymore. And when we allow ourselves to become desensitized to the challenges of the world, we ultimately risk loosing the drive to change anything.”


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club