Written by Jessie Panazzolo

Ten months ago or so, I moved to a new city. A colder city where I had to wear an actual coat outside and ten layers of blankets inside. I thought I loved winter but this type of cold affected me in ways I didn’t imagine it would. The wind-chill left me with bloodshot eyes and I had to wear gloves on my bird walks. Now, I know most of you are thinking, “whatever Jessie, you live in Australia so you can’t complain about the cold,” but to be fair on myself, bodies take time to adjust to new environments, whether it’s 15 degrees or 5 degrees of adjustment.

To cope with the new city and how miserable I was feeling within myself, I joined a local community gym, where I quickly took to the exercise and the community of people who went and worked there. This was my way of keeping my mental and physical health in check through this tough transition.  I noticed that after four months of classes, my upper body strength wasn’t improving, so I sought out advice and my instructor made a program for me to work on my physical form. It was interesting that when she got out the measuring tape, I felt my heart drop, as many women do. But as a scientist, I was also interested to find out what happens to my body over time.

Skip ahead to my third lot of measurements, thirteen weeks later, and after a positive trajectory, I walked into my instructor’s office nervous about my results. After six weeks, I had felt amazing, I was keeping up in class and my overall strength and fitness had improved, and I had felt that continue until recently. My instructor asked me if I was okay as she noticed that I had started to not be able to keep up in class anymore despite my constant training. I told her that two weeks prior, I noticed a shift in my body capabilities. After getting stronger and stronger week after week, suddenly something changed and I felt fatigued, sore, and not as invigorated afterwards. She told me that your mental health has a lot to do with the quality of your workout and even that day, she had gone to exercise and after five minutes on the rower, she walked out and went to the cafe instead.

She asked if anything has been going on and I realised that two weeks ago was when I found myself suddenly out of work with no notice because the business went bankrupt. Even though I thought I was handling it, my body had shown that it was taking some of the pressure. The fitness analysis showed that I had regressed despite my consistent diet and exercise, and I told my instructor I could feel it in my body that I was going backwards. She said that all I had to do was leave that stress behind and my body would power back to normal in no time.

Even though this is not a story from the field of conservation, it was an important lesson for me to learn about carrying stress, which most of us do in this field. It showed me with quantitative evidence how my body was impacted, when mentally I thought I was staying strong and powering through. It was a reminder to me to look after my mind, because without it, my body and other aspects of my life would fall behind.

It’s a tough thing to see in this field – in an environment where nobody thinks they are good enough, where nobody thinks they are doing enough, and when most of the time our pay grade reflects our feelings of worth towards ourselves. But take this as a reminder that we need to be kind to our bodies and minds during this time. This past year, I have started preaching the mantra:

“Rest is productive.”

Because if we don’t give our bodies enough rest to produce new healthy cells at night, it leads to bad mutations and health problems down the line. If we keep our body in high alert, it isn’t using its resources for restorative purposes; it is using them to escape danger.

Being stressed or busy isn’t a badge of honour. I don’t know how society came to a point where we stopped taking proper time for lunch breaks or where we started bragging about how full our schedules are. I think to improve our quality of life, no matter what industry we are in, we need to make time for ourselves as a priority and not as an afterthought. Schedule yourself in because, let me say it again, rest is productive.

So now, as I feel the pressure of the meetings and deadlines I need to prepare for to evolve this community, I need to remember that the point of this community is to help Lonely Conservationists AVOID burn out. How hypocritical of myself to drown in order to save this community. I am going to go find myself a life jacket, and I suggest you all grab one too.

For mindful bird photos to distract your busy brain, check out @ecolojesst on Instagram