Feelings of helplessness toward the ecological crisis, persistent worry about the future of the climate, intense guilt about your own carbon footprint... sound familiar? If so, you may be experiencing eco-anxiety. Knowledge is power but can also be a bit like Pandora’s box. Once you know the truth there’s no going back. Taking the time to learn about the climate crisis & plastic pollution is the first step to becoming more involved in fighting these issues our society faces today. However, once you become aware of these facts and see the full picture it can result in feelings of depression & anxiety. So, what are we supposed to do? Stick our heads in the sand or figure out how to manage our emotions? I’ll go with the latter.
The good news is that this is not a unique problem, many people all over the world experience eco-anxiety and there are some great tactics you can use to manage it. Let’s dive into it.
What is eco-anxiety?
Eco-anxiety refers to chronic or severe anxiety related to humans’ relationship with the environment. The immediate effects of climate change — such as damage to community groups, a loss of food, and reduced medical supply security — can cause acute harm to people’s mental health. Additionally, the gradual impacts of climate change, including increasingly rising sea levels and changes in weather patterns, may lead to chronic mental health symptoms. Put simply, eco-anxiety refers to feelings of helplessness, anger, insomnia, panic and guilt toward the climate and ecological crisis. It can also be described as persistent and intrusive worries about the future of the Earth. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that a changing climate can affect mental health in several ways, including trauma and shock, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, aggression, reduced feelings of autonomy and control, and feelings of helplessness, fatalism, and fear. People may also feel guilty or anxious about the impact that their or their generation’s behavior may have on the environment and that of future generations.
We’re guessing that many of our Glotanicals community have experienced this at some point, I know I have! But one thing to keep in mind is that feelings of eco-anxiety are not wrong. In fact, eco-anxiety isn’t a sign that something’s wrong with you. Almost the exact opposite - It’s a reasonable and healthy response to an existential threat. It means we are human and that we care deeply about both our & our planet’s future.
So you’ve got eco-anxiety, what next?
While one solution may be sticking your head in the sand and trying to pretend that climate change doesn’t exist or that it won’t affect you, that’s not the healthiest way to deal. After all, though you may be able to compartmentalize & ignore the issue you can’t forget what you already know. So what can we do instead?
1. Find Community Support
Getting involved with like-minded groups and finding a sense of community is a great way to alleviate eco-anxiety. Studies suggest that social support can provide resilience to stress and that feelings of belonging can increase motivation. Plus, it makes us feel like we aren’t the only ones who care about this issue and that we’re not going at it alone. Joining national and local organizations dedicated to climate awareness might ease the burden. Not only would it allow you to be more involved in the discussion on climate change, but it would also surround you with like-minded people. Many cities and towns have their own local organizations, but you could also check out international organizations like Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, the Sunrise Movement, and 350.
2. Spend Time in Nature
This may sound counterintuitive if your anxiety stems from a fear of losing precious natural habitats & resources, however studies have shown that spending more time outdoors or with nature may help alleviate eco-anxiety by encouraging a positive personal connection with the environment. Some people may benefit from keeping a rock, twig, dried flower, or other natural object that they can look at and touch when feeling disconnected or overwhelmed. This may work in a similar way to grounding techniques that some mental health professionals recommend for managing anxiety.
3. Re-Evaluate Your Media Sources
It’s important to stay informed but too much information can increase our feelings of anxiety. Try to limit your exposure to the media and take conscious media & news breaks. It’s also important to consider the point of view through which the stories are being presented. Without realizing it, people can be very influenced by the information they see each day in the media, politics, advertising, and on social media platforms. Seeing this information over and over again can cause stress, especially if it is inaccurate, biased, or presented in a certain way. Pay attention when you’re reading or listening to climate or environmental news. How does it make you feel? Does it result in more feelings of anxiety or does it offer hope? Personally, I love engaging with media, influencers, & activists who lean into the hopeful side of climate change and hearing about all of the innovative solutions being offered today. You can’t just have doses of the intense reality; you should also have some doses of magic/hope.
4. Take Meaningful Action
Let me preface this with one fact: Climate change is not your fault and it is not solely up to you to solve it. It is a collective issue that requires collective action. With that in mind, taking meaningful action can make you feel a lot better. Climate change will affect so many things in our world, so I always encourage people to take action on the things that mean the most to you. Do you hate politics? Then don’t get involved in political activism. Do you love wine? Try and see if there are any organizations working with wine producers on the impacts of climate change: how to grow & harvest sustainably and how to produce great wine in a changing climate. Or try hosting an education session with your wine club to get other wine lovers engaged in this issue. No matter what your passions are, find a way to use that in your personal fight against climate change.
5. See a therapist
People with severe eco-anxiety, or anxiety that does not respond to at-home management tips, may need professional help handling their anxiety. To get professional help for eco-anxiety, a person can talk with a family doctor or other healthcare worker who can provide guidance on how to connect with an appropriate mental health professional. A growing number of mental health professionals are receiving training in how to help people manage their relationship with nature and cope with modern-day environmental problems. No all therapists are trained to work with eco-anxiety though, so it may be best to seek out a therapist who is equipped to work with you on this issue. One group to check out here is the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America, which hosts a Climate Therapists Directory on its website.