Sustainable Burnout

It’s taken me nearly six months to write this. To just process how deeply and fully I was affected and to be able to come out on the other side, I feel a sense of a pride and calm about me. Without sounding arrogant, even a little more self-confident. Truly, I hope you do too.

Author: Heena Shah

Amidst the uncertainty of an economy struggling to function during our generation’s largest pandemic, you will find the resiliency of the human spirit. As the holidays came and went, it was time virtually spent with family and friends still with us, but it was mostly spent reflecting in isolation.


The taboo of mental health has been slowly chipped away over the decades as therapy and mental health related jobs and services have been normalized. COVID seems to have only exacerbated this. Mental health has become the most important topic. It is discussed in nearly every work meeting and school discussions, and the taboo of mental illnesses has had no choice to be shattered within family structures as spouses, parents, and their children attempt to adapt to the new realities of our COVID world.

People aren’t built to be in front of screens all day. In an increasingly remote world the concept of burnout, literally, has become a common workplace term. Burnout is a symptomatic result of a work culture that puts profit and numbers over people. Unbiased translation: where the pressures of work and constant screen time overwhelm the brain and cause motivation to drain out.

Sustainable burnout

What I’ve found is that burnout can apparently also apply more directly to the self and to projects you’re actually passionate about. A few months ago, I found myself diving into several different projects. My full-time job, various part-time jobs I decided to take on, volunteer work I was doing, even the books I was reading or shows I was watching. All centered around the interdisciplinary topics of public health and climate change.

Now, this is not a bad thing- it’s even encouraged to spend your time getting educated on the important topics and doing them with the people in your life. Afternoon hikes that turned into trail clean ups, Netflix parties for docuseries- the list goes on. I thought I was being so productive and doing so much good for the planet and more the people I love…

What I did not anticipate was the burnout that followed. Months of prioritizing everything by my mental health- always in front a screen, talking to or being talked at another person, absorbing information from the moment I woke to the moment I drifted off to sleep… it wasn’t healthy, even though it was spent supposedly doing things I all loved and enjoyed.

Climate change anxiety

Given that this was an election year, how I live my life and diving into discussions of the like quickly turned into arguments about personal politics. Dealing with the pressures of corporate, the stress and rejection of pursuing creative endeavors, and the constant questioning of my family members and peers in my off-time left me questioning if this was even an industry I wanted to be part of. To top it all off, climate change anxiety became so visceral.

There is so much that needs to be done, so many people and ecosystems that are suffering right now. It never felt that what I was doing was enough or even effective. It all felt like a loss, maybe even that I was trying so hard because I knew my efforts were useless.

That maybe, I was constantly catching up on the latest policy, science, and nutrition because I was a fraud. Gate keeping is a painful and toxic phenomenon that has wormed its way into the Sustainability World- and oddly enough it was moreso the people around me that made me feel less for not knowing or doing every single thing there was to do, rather than my actual peers.

Crashing down

Then came the day of reckoning. Within 48 hours, I was laid off from what I thought was supposed to be my dream job, my small business failed, the company I wanted to volunteer with had rejected me, and I ended a three-year relationship. It felt that everything I had spent all my time and energy on all came crashing down.

This was obviously a huge hit to my ego, my heart, and my sense of self-worth. So, I took some time to unwind and re-evaluate what my priorities were and what I really wanted out of my time. Spent most of the next few weeks wallowing and feverishly applying to any and every job opening I was remotely qualified for. After the shock of everything wore off, I started to enjoy some relaxing time off.

Revalue your time

I started meditating more, spending quality time with friends doing more normal naturey things, exercising daily, and committing to healthy eating. It turns out that I was actually doing more by doing less, and recommitting to things that made me feel like I was valuing my time.

In only three months I was employed again, in a great job with awesome benefits. I changed my environment and moved closer to the city, and find myself enjoying little things and finding gratitude in each day. Even off days, days spent in bed or watching Netflix, never feel wasted.

I’m happier. My self-talk has vastly improved and I’m actually more productive overall. Looking back, I’m realizing that how I choose to relate to my surroundings is everything. In making time to slow down, I am no longer as bothered by those who would choose to berate or bring me down. I no longer accept that which is less than what I want and know I am worth.

I’m sure there will come a time when the cycle will repeat, but for now, I am proud to show up. To do the work I am interested in that is beneficial for the health of myself and our planet. In that order.

Read more from Heena Shah:
Veganuary in New York
20 Things we learned in 2020
Vegan Mylk

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