How I’m Beating Eco-Burnout: 5 Ways

I’m having one of those days.  One of those days when trying to live a sustainable life feels impossible.

Beating Eco Burnout

I’m doing the No Plastic July challenge.  I am rocking it!  I am meeting my goals, we are having fun and despite that all I can see is a tidal wave of plastic. Everything seems to be pushing me to spend and consume at an alarming rate.  Every day I find out something else horrible about the sickening conditions we keep animals in, about human slavery in the the food chain, human slavery in the clothing chain, plastic killing our oceans. I’m not even going to link to the stories today.

I just feel so full of rage and then utterly powerless.  I can’t imagine what sort of person would run a corporation that does these things happily for profit.  I can’t imagine how we have evolved an economy that looks like this.  I don’t understand how politicians in this country look at the budget and say “well we’d better cut benefits for these poverty stricken people because that subsidy to the arms trade won’t pay itself.”

It saddens me that we have all become so good at compartmentalising our compassion.  If a neighbour or friend is in trouble then most people will move mountains to help and support them.  But if Primark is selling clothes that are being made in horrible and unsafe conditions then people don’t have the same motivation to buy a fair trade or second hand T-shirt instead.  It isn’t like Primark’s business model is a surprise any more,  there have been lots of news stories about how their clothes are made.

I think part of the reason we are so good at compartmentalising is that there is too much bad stuff, too much injustice and unless you live off-grid on a totally self-sufficient farm then at some point you’ll have to make compromises you don’t want to. When that happens it’s easier to switch off and not think too hard about what you’re doing. And I do that too, and I feel terrible about it.

And most consumers are either so far removed from the means of production that it is becoming easier and easier to pretend it doesn’t matter that other humans are dying to make a cheaper T-shirt or the consumers themselves are so poor that all they can afford is the most unethical, unhealthy food and the cheapest clothing regardless of how they would like to live.  At the same time corporations are making massive profits, some have a bigger GDP than many countries but I see little evidence of that wealth being put back into the communities they are living in.  In fact I see zero hours contracts, no living wage and a mountain of waste which is choking the life out of us by inches.

Pretty depressing stuff and easy to get overwhelmed.  Like I said, I’m having one of those days.  And it is on these days I need to remind myself to come back to my values, be grateful for what I have and carry on with actions which are right until I feel better again. Because making changes to my life, living differently to the usual systems, writing about it… all these things do matter and in a couple of days I’ll believe that again.

I decided to come up with 5 ways to make it easier on myself until I’m back in the groove.

1. Take it one decision at a time. When we were interviewed for the Guardian I said that if you miss the chance to make a good choice about something (fair trade, organic cotton etc.) then there will be another choice coming soon.  This is a double edged sword, on the one hand there are hundreds of traps every day, hundreds of choices you have to make because everything we consume is somehow tainted, by poor labour conditions, bad animal welfare, toxic chemicals, plastics that lives forever in landfill.  The task is daunting.  So break it down, don’t look at the sea of decisions, look at just the next decision you have to make.  Can you make a good choice here, can I fill up my water bottle to take out with me instead of buying another Evian?  Take it one decision at a time and if you mess up then don’t think of all bad options you have, see how many opportunities you have left in your life to minimise the harm.

2. Start with what you love – I love eating good food, I like cooking but I love eating.  So when I feel overwhelmed I go back to what I enjoy.  I don’t mean comfort eating, I mean I cooking.  I’ll make something from scratch like roasted almond nut butter from fair trade almonds which means I’ll reuse a jar rather than buying a new one and make something tasty that I love.  Something I can’t buy in the shops because it doesn’t taste the same as when I make it. You might enjoy writing campaigning letters or blog articles, walking instead of driving (I love walking, I’ll walk anywhere as long as the weather is fine), vegetable gardening.  Take the part of being green which you enjoy for its own sake and prioritise doing that.

3. Prune your Social Media – sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed it is because I’m getting too many bulletins and messages about how bad things are.  I’m not suggesting hiding away and pretending things aren’t happening.  I’m suggesting you limit your exposure.  Work out what your values are, then work out what your priorities are according to those values and concentrate on those campaigns only. Un-subscribe from everything which isn’t in your list of priorities.  Maybe tomorrow you can resubscribe.  But if you concentrate your available energy on a smaller list of causes then you will take some action.  If you feel like you should be taking action on everything that floods your inbox, facebook, twitter, blog feed with issues then you’ll take action on nothing.

4. Check in with your People – no one wants to live in an echo chamber, but sometimes we need a community of support.  A community where you don’t have to argue with people or persuade them that we do need to ditch plastic and we do need to invest in green energy or that climate change is real and we can do something about it. Sometimes you need to be with a group of people who support you and who you can support in return.  I have argued for many years that protests and marches and petitions DO make a difference, they make a huge difference.  They might not change a politician’s mind or make a new law but they do make me feel less alone. They give me and many others the strength and energy to continue fighting for what is right and that is priceless.

(To be honest I’m really sceptical when people throw about the accusation that people just “want an echo chamber”.  Last time I looked although lots of people agree that climate change is real and slave labour is bad – no-one with the power is doing anything about it, in fact they are coming up with lots of reasons why we can’t change. I see and hear people arguing against climate change all the time and I’ve rarely felt they had said anything truly interesting or challenging to contribute.)

5. Celebrate your successes – I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect and there isn’t more to be done.  There is plenty! But I could do with sitting down and feeling proud of the things we have achieved and how we’ve changed in the process.  Because when I remember how much I have achieved I remember I can achieve some more!

I think I feel better already getting this post out – it is a long one but I hope someone finds it useful.

I’d love to know if anyone else gets a sort of eco-social-justice burnout and how you get over it.


21 thoughts on “How I’m Beating Eco-Burnout: 5 Ways

  1. Dawn McHugh

    I can see were you are coming from with this post, you are doing a great job with passing on your thoughts and values, if you had posted about Plastic Free July I for one would not of been aware of it, it then popped up on some-one elses blog, I then made a choice to read up more about it, I havent joined the challange this month bad timing with the move but it has given me inspiration and a more long term goal to reduce one use plastic, Some of the ideas I have I will impliment over a longer term, I do now think about which I wasnt doing before. I dont suscribe to any social feeds I just couldnt cope with them. Keep up the good work and spreading the word even if just one person stops and thinks its a postive result.

    1. Becky A Post author

      Thank you Dawn! This is really helpful. Sometimes it just all feels overwhelming but knowing that you’ve got some ideas for something to do because of something I posted actually helps a lot!

  2. Lindsay (treadingmyownpath)

    That was a really nice post. You’re right, blogging is a good way to clear your head and once you write your thoughts down, you definitely feel lighter. I was feeling similar today…I really want to clear out my wardrobe, but I feel stuck. So I thought about why, and wrote about it. (It’s up on my blog if you want to read) Understanding where I am with my thoughts helps me feel less overwhelmed!

    Oh and yes, food helps. I’m so with you on that one! I spend a whole day in the kitchen inventing recipes and filling my fridge with wonderful leftovers when I’m feeling stuck. I guess it’s all about reconnecting : )

    1. Becky A Post author

      Thank you for the comment. I’ll definitely head over to your blog and read your post. It is great to be in a community of like minded people – but sometimes that means a lot of information about all the terrible things which are going on. And I’m just learning to apply to right filters so I can live green more effectively (and happily!).

  3. Morag

    I love this post. It’s part of the reason we created – to break things down into easy steps and know that others are doing it too – a community of doers all connected around the issues they are passionate about. That’s the theory anyway, in practice …. it’s early days!


    We are old! so we don’t bother with all the social media available. 1o’clock news is about all I know of what’s happening in the world. You can only do your best in all things in life.
    We try and keep things simple.

    1. Becky A Post author

      🙂 I am part of the internet generation I’m afraid. Always connected! I’ve just got to get some good boundaries in place I guess.

  5. Keely

    Sometimes I want to tear my hair out: Schools are incredibly wasteful places, but the work we do there is invaluable. It’s hard to have perspective when I look at a garbage tub full of hardly used paper towels or never-used photocopies. I commute every day, usually alone, to do work that really makes a difference. It twists my gut. There is never enough of me to go around, emotionally. There wouldn’t be even if I weren’t trying to take on educational inequity and live a greener life at the same time. Just loving one kid who needs it as much as our 200 students each do, or simply trying to live harmlessly is enough to burn someone out: looking at the size of the challenges fills me with doubt and rage and frustration and helplessness. Totally get it. Have you read Sandra Steingraber’s books? I think she does a pretty good job of looking at the problems we face honestly but hopefully. #1 above is key, and keeping that in sight keeps me sane.

    P.S. You rock! This post is the bomb.

    1. Becky A Post author

      Oh! Keeley you know every time I read your posts and comments I think damn, why doesn’t she live in the UK, preferably Derbyshire. We would absolutely be best friends and spend our time eating amazing homemade food, playing board games, walking in the hills and taking into the night. Sigh 🙂

      I remember making a decision not to become a criminal lawyer or a human rights lawyer because I just knew I’d end up burning out and getting sick. I still that that was probably the right decision even though I might have been able to achieve more. So I can totally understand where you are coming from as a teacher. Plus, I don’t know about the US but in the UK teachers are nowhere near as supported as they should be given how important their job is.

      I haven’t read any Sandra Steingraber but a quick look and Raising Elijah in particular looks right up my street. I’ve always been eco-conscious but since having Raffi it just feel so much more urgent and important. The idea of feeding him meat that comes from a place of cruelty just makes me shudder likewise prawns fished using human slavery etc. etc. And then I feel so thankful that I can even afford to make that choice for him.

      That is where the overwhelm starts to come in. I start thinking about the environmental impact of cheap clothing, then I think, well at least I can afford fair trade clothing or I’m lucky no-one will look down on me for wearing second hand charity shop clothes because I have that white middle class privilege to look a bit scruffy and still be taken seriously. Then you realise it isn’t just about plastic or any single issue but Eco awareness, sustainability and social justice are totally and completely intertwined. We won’t beat climate change without tackling social justice and inequality as well. Then it seems huge.

      I think I’d better go back to my list of 5 things again and practice them a bit more 🙂

      1. Keely

        Haha! We would absolutely be best friends and have board games and homegrown pork dinner night all the time! I always want to call you up and plan to make soap and pickles and whatever else together, because that stuff is always much more fun with a friend, and then there’s only one set of dishes to wash.

        I read Having Faith in a night. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down until it was done at five am. I have never before or since done that with a non-fiction book. Her writing is personal, well-researched and inspiring. I haven’t read Raising Elijah yet, but it’s on the short list.

        I never considered the privilege to look scruffy, but you’re absolutely on point there. I’m going to consider this one some more. I hate when I come across another unexamined privilege that I’ve been exercising carelessly for my entire life. This deserves some thought.

        Thing #5 is critical. Plus, it helps to remember that there are kickass people all over the world doing their bit to chip away at the big issues 😉

  6. Becky A Post author

    Hah! I’m totally the same with trying to arrange cider making weekends and sausage making weekends because it is so much more fun to get a tribe of people over to make a big batch of stuff. You don’t play role-playing games do you… because if you do then you are me and I’ll claim my £5.

    Sorry to give you another privilege to look out for. I’d not considered it until about 6 months ago then I read a great article about how it is not ok to criticise people on low budgets for splashing out on fancy clothes because lots of them do it because they believe (and rightly so) that wearing fancy clothes will get them taken more seriously. It was such a sharp shock when I realised the truth of it. That my carefully cultivated persona as the scruffy but brilliant eccentric was actually something I was only able to enjoy because I was white, middle class, well spoken and highly educated was a real wake up.

    I do take great comfort from knowing I am part of a great community all working to make shifts and make a change and change does happen – I do have to remember that!

  7. Leigh

    Hi Becky, I came by to return the blog visit and started reading. You have a wonderful blog! This topic and your advice is dear to my heart so I thought I’d comment here, because the whole prospect can become overwhelming. I do better if I just take it a day at a time and focus on the task at hand. Any one of us is just a drop in the bucket, but thanks to the internet, we discover we aren’t alone and our combined efforts make a difference.

    1. Becky A Post author

      Dear Leigh

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! I adore your blog and especially the adventures with the goats.

      One day at a time is such important advice and so easily forgotten (at least by me) I think I need to write it on my son’s head so I get plenty of reminders!

      I find the internet a mixed blessing. I love meeting new people and forging communities to help us all support each other to live this sustainable life. But it is through the internet that I discover everyday something else I worry about – which is why I have to learn to conserve my emotional energy and make sure it is going into the places where I can do the most good.

  8. MargotBarbara

    Brilliant post – and yes, I absolutely agree with your points. After I had my first child, I really, really struggled with the news. Some of it related to my own anxieties about a difficult birth (she was 10 weeks’ early and we both nearly died, so big trauma) but a lot of it was my total feelings of helplessness about the world I’d brought her into. Not only the environmental issues, but the fact that the human race is so damn intent on killing each other.

    I stopped listening to the news, because knowing about disasters across the globe that i could do nothing about was turning me into a wreck. And (after a period of being a complete mess) I concentrated on local. So, I couldn’t protect every child in the world from bad, bad things. But I could support my local pre-school, where a lot of children come from deprived backgrounds. So, I’m now Chair. Reducing global to local gave me my power to make a difference back and it’s how I replicate my other values now too.

    As far as the clothing thing goes – it is absolutely true that middle-class privilege to look ‘shabby’ or wear vintage etc is a thing. I have worked with many people from deprived backgrounds on environmental projects before – and asked parents to send kids in their oldest, messiest clothes because they were going to be covered in mud. Without exception, they all turned up in their smartest stuff, to the extent that we ended up buying a load of waterproof all-in-ones to cover them up. Because it’s about pride. There’s also the truth that many people buy in Primark etc because it’s simply what they can afford. And I cannot judge harshly for that, in the same way that I cannot judge people in the developing world for wanting the white goods, cars, mobile phones, meat-based diets, that the western world has enjoyed for so long. The world is full of grey, it’s not black and white. It makes things hard, but it also still makes it a place worth fighting for. As you say, one decision at a time. Fantastic post.

    1. Becky A Post author

      Hi Elizabeth

      Thank you so much for your response. It was so interesting to read your take on it and I completely agree with your comment about sometimes people buying from Primark because it is all they can afford. I think that is part of the reason I end up feeling overwhelmed. I start by thinking – “I won’t buy clothes from Primark because they have horrific labour practices”. Then I think – “but I can’t judge everyone who buys their clothes too harshly because some of them can’t afford anything else”. Then I think – “How terrible is it that we have ended up with a system where the poorest people can only afford clothes made by slave labour…. aarrrgh!” It is at that point I realise how completely intertwined the system is and how it is impossible to just fix one bit of it because they whole thing is broken.

      I think I’d better stop there and taken it one thing at a time 🙂

  9. Jen

    Becky, this is brilliant. I have ranted in the past on my blog, (but not so eloquently) and well recognise all the feelings you describe.
    All I fall back on, all I can ever fall back on, is that I can only do what I can do. But that I DO have to do it. And stop thinning about the bigger picture, and just focus on the bits (little or otherwise) that I CAN actually do. And take responsibility for making those changes. And try not to beat myself up when modern day living gets in the way, and sometimes I don’t make the right choices.
    You are doing a FABULOUS job, and through your words, your actions, your blog, other people are being inspired to do “just one more thing” too.
    Jen xx

    1. Becky A Post author

      Thanks so much Jen. I’m feeling better about it now 🙂 there is just a job of work to do working out what you can do realistically and then doing it (as you say) no matter how futile it sometimes appears.

  10. beautifulorpractical

    Brilliant post 🙂 it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and a bit downhearted. My July hasn’t been anything like the plastic free month I intended but small changes and small choices do count and sometimes everyone needs a chear leader 🙂

    1. Becky A Post author

      Thank you so much – it is easy to get down about the mountain of things that need to change. Like you my No Plastic July has had some real ups and downs. I will be making some lasting changes which I’m proud of but so far my attempts to make yoghurt have been disastrous and I have been shocked at the extent to which plstic has crept into our lives (I assume you know that it is in T-bags and a lot of clothing! Westywrites has been blowing my mind this month!)

  11. Pingback: No Plastic Round Up | Westwick Dreaming

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