Q: I’ve worked for a river group for several years, and even though I love the river I work to protect, I’m having a lot of bad days at work, I’m exhausted all the time, I feel constantly stressed about the sheer volume of work I have to do and the lack of funding to do it! I want to work to protect rivers, but working here is really starting to get to me. Do you have any advice on how I can balance my work with my sanity?

A: I’m really sorry you’re going through this. If it helps, you’re not alone. Because let’s face it: environmentalists work hard—arguably harder than most professionals. For example, a friend of mine who works for a national environmental organization in Washington D.C. was at work the other day when a moderately intense earthquake hit D.C. and shook everybody up a bit.  The Capitol shut down for several hours, businesses all over the city sent employees home to check on their houses, their families, their pets.  But all my friend’s coworkers just kept on working like nothing had happened! My friend is new to the job and called me right after it happened: “What is it with these environmentalists?” she asked. “I thought they were going to be so laid back and easy going, but I think a lot of them are working on ulcers!”  

Putting heart and soul into the work is just part of nonprofit culture.  The stakes are high for people who do it because it involves something they actually care about—in your case, a river you love. Plus, for a lot of people the work is made more difficult because it not only involves program work but fundraising, bookkeeping and personnel management, etc.  It leaves very little time for other things that are important and/or make life worth living:  time with family and friends, exercise, housecleaning, doing nothing, and time spent on the river you’re working so hard to protect!

Oftentimes, when you start a job, you begin the work feeling pretty content—lucky and valued, even! You have a job, and somebody even picked you over a bunch of other candidates to do it! But eventually that euphoric feeling begins to wear off as you begin to get a bit confused, asking yourself, “What are my priorities? How do I manage this workload? How do I navigate my work relationships?”  And a thousand other tough questions, none of which are easy to answer.  After a while you might become resentful of your job, and even your coworkers. You begin to feel isolated and depressed and worn out. Does any of this sound familiar?

Well, that’s what we like to call burnout, and it happens to the best of us. But what do we do about it? Well, the first step is probably just identifying it in you.  It’s also important to know that you have options—you could find a new job, you could change the way you think about your current job, you could talk it out with the person or people who could improve your situation and see if you can’t come to a mutual, respectful understanding.

Since there are as many ways to deal with burnout as there are overwhelmed people in the world, Georgia River Network has an online resource to help out.  

And please --at the very least, talk to someone you trust about your predicament. Take care of yourself!