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Work-life balance and preventing burnout in ecology

Being part of exciting and ambitious projects in wildlife research and conservation is one of the main things that drives passionate ecologists – like any of you reading now. And, in passion-motivated industries like ecology and wildlife conservation, there is often a culture around hard work, long hours and in some cases, extreme dedication and personal sacrifices for the cause.

Work-life balance and preventing burnout in ecology | #itsawildlife

WHAT IS BURNOUT?

While both passion and compassion are amazing qualities in so many of the ecologists I have met, and can produce unrivaled motivation to achieve great results for wildlife and conservation, it can also be tempting to slip into patterns that blur the lines between work and life.

Not only can this degrade personal boundaries but it often leads to burnout, a state of complete mental exhaustion, if left unchecked. Signs of burnout include insistent isolation, frequent sickness, exhaustion and constant feelings of overwhelm.

From my experience, the ecology community in general often looks down on burn out as a weakness, maybe even an inevitable state which we pity but can’t do much about.

I honestly believe that in order to prevent the high incidence of burnout that is rife within the ecology space and help those of us whose lives are devastated by it, we need to shift the way we look at and speak about burn out in ecology. After all –  

“Burnout is not an indication of how much work someone has done – rather a failure to schedule time for recovery”

Maybe teaching coping strategies and implementing work-life balance should be part of any ecological degree? Maybe it’s something that we need to be more open about when discussing the realities of working in this industry? Maybe something completely different…

BURNOUT IS RIFE

Although it is really hard to find statistics on burnout, let along burnout amongst wildlifers, but since the COVID-19 work-from-home shift, 4 of 5 Australians reported suffering from burnout in 2021.

Either way, things need to change for the well-being of people within this community – and it starts with each and everyone of us by shifting our perspective on work ethic and balance in our lives.

While there is definitely a responsibility on employers and the ecological community itself to open up the conversation about burnout and look at ways to improve wellbeing for people in this passion-driven industry, it is also our own responsibility (to ourselves, to our employers and to our longevity within our roles) to prevent burnout by implementing a healthy work-life balance.

But know you’re not alone!

Work-life balance and preventing burnout in ecology | #itsawildlife

PREVENTING BURNOUT WITH WORK-LIFE BALANCE

One of the best ways to avoid burning out is by implementing a healthy work-life balance. By enforcing this, not only will you enhance longevity in your role and your career, and make your work time more productive so you have more time for the things you love.

  • Developing self-awareness is paramount

Your triggers and responses can be unexpected so for this reason, journaling and self-reflection can be really helpful in this process.

  • Set strict boundaries (and enforce them!)

If you say you’ll finish work at 5 pm then plan your day and work load around that time. Try not to do just little things like check emails or schedule “quick meetings” out of work hours.

Setting goals for all areas of your life and building skills in time management and scheduling help to build habits that support a healthy work-life balance.

  • Take care of yourself

It’s the little things that count on a consistent basis – try to get a good night sleep, eat a healthy diet, do regular exercise and practice mindfulness.

When things feel overwhelming or you feel stressed by unrealistic workloads, impossible deadlines or tense relationships, try to find time for yourself to take a step back and put things into perspective. Tell yourself – “It’s just work” or something else that helps you to take a mental step back.

Keep yourself calm and collected with gratitude – take a moment to appreciate the things that are going well, smile and let yourself sit in the feeling of gratitude.

  • Ask for help and delegate where you can

There’s nothing worse than bottling things up – it can add unnecessary pressure to a situation. You don’t have to push through by yourself. Share your experience with people you trust and delegate tasks where you can.

  • When you’re in the field for long periods

Read the room and respect everyone’s space – you’re spending an unnatural amount of time together in close, isolated quarters. It’s important to listen to your body and give yourself the mental space (not just physical) as you need it – take downtime to read a book, journal, draw or just string up a hammock and take a nap!

Implementing work-life balance isn’t going to happen overnight. Treat this journey as a marathon – rather than a sprint where the name of the game is consistency. The more you practice, the richer your life will become so armed with this post, step up to the starting plate and get set, go for gold!

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10 thoughts on “Work-life balance and preventing burnout in ecology”

  1. I love this post because it also applies to motherhood. Too often we experience burnout. It’s important to take step back and apply the tips you shared! We cannot pour from an empty cup.

    1. Completely! Yes this is such an important topic for mummas! Especially with so many high (often unrealistic) expectations felt by women to do and be everyone 🧡

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