When Burnout becomes the status quo

In December 2019, I tweeted these words “I’m having a hard time at the moment. The hard where there is a knot in your stomach all the time, where at the end of the day you weep for no reason, where you wonder what the point of anything is at all…” – pretty dark really.

It was the first time I had acknowledged out loud that there was more than just a vitamin D deficiency – Canada doesn’t get enough UV in winter to keep up with our daily needs apparently. It was also the first time that I really started to think about what I was going through.

I have burnout. But my burnout has aggregated with my ecological anxiety to create a monster I have valiantly named #BurningEcoAnxiety. I’m hoping there is a cream for it.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

Eco-anxiety is the chronic or severe anxiety related to humans’ relationship with the environment and fear of environmental doom.

For as long as I can remember, I have watched the world burning, wildlife being exterminated, people displaced and enslaved to serve the greed of a few – it’s only getting worse. Our governments twiddle their thumbs, not wanting to disrupt the all important dah dah dahhh “ECONOMIC GROWTH” of capitalism. Politicians accumulate retirement funds, and holiday homes in exotic locations from lobbyists willing to sell their souls to the devil. The 99% work tooth and nail just to survive. Society is a veritable feast of ecological dystopia – that in fact, is our reality.

You might think it’s strange that I have actively sought out this view of the world. But although I ache with every single horror deep in my bones, if I ignore it then I am another complicit participant in the atrocities. So I made it my career to work towards making a difference.

I started my environmental science training 10 years ago. I was curious and thirsty for knowledge, hungry to contribute something good – protecting nature. It was easy to spend all of my time gorging on the horror stories of ecological destruction, extinctions in the news and in conservation journals – growing my expertise in ecocide. Until the weight of it all smashed into me like a 10-tonne truck in December.

Why on earth would anyone do this?

I did this and I will continue to do this because I still see the beauty in the world. I still see the wonder. I can close my eyes and feel the crisp, cold air of Campbell Island in the Southern Ocean, hundreds of kilometres from concrete and steel. I can hear the wind rippling across the feathers of a Northern Royal Albatross, the breeze touching my face as it glides above my head. I can see the infinite blue oceans through the eyes of the albatross as they cruise above the rolling waves. I can smell the ocean air. I can still see the smiles of happiness in the faces of friends, and strangers who embrace immense joy from the ‘little things’.

I still have hope…


I am beginning to accept that this state of being – this BurningEcoAnxiety – has become my homeostasis – to use a biological term. It is my bedfellow. I wouldn’t be the kind of human I want to be if it wasn’t a constant condition, because of what I know. Now it is a part of me that needs to be cared for and managed so that it does’t take control. And if it does, as it inevitably will, I have to be kind, and treat it with a healthy dose of nature and love.

When I sent that ‘pretty dark’ tweet, my tweeps (friends and colleagues) – many whom I have never met in person – showered me with support and solidarity. I cried. But instead of despair, I cried with relief – I was not alone. My wise sister had told me that it might be cathartic to reach out to my community – and she was right. As I talk to more people about it, I realised that I am part of a large community who are afflicted with BurningEcoAnxiety. In reaching out, and in saying out loud what I have been hiding – by defining it –  I can find ways to manage it.

So, what happens now?

We stick together, this community of BurningEcoTrauma Fellows. We turn our anger and rage at the inequities of the world into action. We fight. We fight like hell, because there is no other option. And when I am not fighting, I will hold my loved ones a little closer, say kind words to everyone I know and meet, and be compassionate to myself. I will also keep searching for a cream that heals my BurningEcoAnxiety.


**On a final note – I deleted that tweet, the ‘pretty dark’ one. I deleted it because I felt ashamed. Ashamed to admit to falling into this trap – I can intellectualise this trap, I can tell others how to avoid it, I thought I was clever enough to keep clear of the trap. But it turns out I have been operating from the BurningEcoAnxiety trap for longer than I know.  I know I am not alone, and I gain strength from others who speak openly about our struggles – Thank you for your courage. So, I hope that my words offer some sense of solidarity to others who are in the trap too. I see you. Don’t be afraid to say it out loud, it turns out its harder than it should be to get help sometimes – persist & I am here if you want to talk @PetrelStation.

One thought on “When Burnout becomes the status quo

  1. Thanks for sharing this story, Steph. I wish more scientists did. I admire your openness, honesty and dedication to making the world a better place.

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