November 20, 2019 - 6:19pm

We’re all burnt out. This year the WHO recognised ‘burnout’ as an occupational phenomenon. Globally, medical professionals are reporting startling levels of burnout, and governments in countries seen as comparatively relaxed and balanced, like Sweden and Australia are dealing with worryingly high levels.

I was amused to see that some of those millennial brand creators most involved in pushing the kind of always-on, highly optimised, instagrammable lifestyles which arguably drive burnout are recognising the phenomenon. One is “pivoting to burnout” by launching a line of cookware explicitly not designed to be photographed, in the hope that learning to cook for the sheer pleasure of it will help people slow down. Prices start at $79 dollars for a small pan.

Pattern, the company (who, to be fair to them, are also enforcing 6pm home time and strict out-of-office emailing policies amongst their staff), are playing into a movement towards “domestic cozy” — less public performance, more private craft. And while I’m deeply sceptical that the solution of everyone feeling fried is buying yet more stuff, taking time away from economic or status-seeking activity may indeed be part of the answer.

Maybe, then, these masters of marketing should put their consummate creative energy instead into rebranding Sabbath. Sabbath is an ancient Jewish practice that might actually protect us against burnout. Sadly it is often associated with puritanical, freedom constraining cultures like the chaining of the swings on Sundays in the Outer Hebrides. The other objection is that only those who lack dynamism want to protect a day of rest. Greek and Roman authorities thought the Jews who practiced it, doing the ancient near eastern equivalents of switching off phones and refusing to answer emails for 24hours, were just being lazy.

In these burned-out times I’m thinking about how Sabbath can be neither puritanical or lazy, but about the freedom to recognise and respect our limits. About building boundaries around our time that allow our minds and souls to recover. One day a week to hit pause on the hustle. To look up from the glowing rectangular portals continually attached to our limbs and really notice the world around us. One day in seven to reflect on the big stuff that gets crowded out of our attention by the relentless roar of consumerism. Yes, maybe, to cook and eat a real meal without taking a picture of it, with people who really know us. We just don’t need $80 pans to do it.

Elizabeth Oldfield is the former head of Theos. Her writing has appeared in the FT, Prospect and The Times. Her Twitter handle is @esoldfield