If you’re someone who regularly thinks about the state of the planet, you might be prone to eco-anxiety.
You might watch a lot of documentaries, alerting you to the fact that ecosystems are in danger.
While many out there seem oblivious to it, anxiety over it can be crippling to some of us.
As it turns out, ‘eco-anxiety’ is actually a thing. You may find, as I did, professionals aren’t always equipped to deal with this.
I became aware of my own state of eco-anxiety leading to recurrent, crippling decision paralysis. But when I spoke to a psychologist about my awareness of my eco-anxiety, the response I got was quite absent.
What I realised was, our mental approaches towards this were different.
I decided to look a little further and discovered that eco-anxiety has a whole website dedicated to it.
There are even ‘eco-psycologists’, I just hadn’t been to one of them.
What is Eco-Anxiety?
Eco-Anxiety.com states that: “if you worry or feel guilty about the environmental impact of most actions you take, or if your great concern for the environment is matched by a huge sense of helplessness that there’s nothing you can do, and if this tends to immobilise you” then it might be eco-anxiety.
Is it a medical condition?
According to Eco-Anxiety.com, “it isn’t an officially recognised physical or mental disorder, so it can’t be diagnosed as one. Eco-anxiety is on a spectrum, with some people more affected than others. Reasonable levels of eco-anxiety are rational, so they can’t be considered as a ‘disorder’. But eco-anxiety could sometimes be excessive, and it could combine with and exacerbate other pre-existing medical conditions.”
So, this gives us a framework to base our dialogue around. We can utilise this when speaking to parents, teachers, friends, psychologists, coaches, or whoever.
It may help someone understand that, although they may not comprehend the problems we face, you do.
This level of comprehension may seem like a blessing, but it can be quite the opposite. It can affect your ability to do basic things like, you know, exist in this paradigm when everything you do has an ecological impact.
Know that you’re not alone!
Whether you were born in the 50’s or in ‘05, the nineties or the ‘noughties, or somewhere in between. Regardless, you were born into a society that was already on a trajectory towards ecocide. It already had some serious momentum.
Now, here we are in the ‘new 20’s.’
It’s a very different time from how it was 100 years ago. We’re plugged in and supposedly more connected than ever through our devices… yet, the pop culture zeitgeist seems to indicate that people are feeling more alone and disconnected than ever.
Perhaps because now we’ve been hit with orders that sent us indoors to have a hard look in the mirror.
Along with all of this, if you do suffer from eco-anxiety, you might suffer from ecological grief.
Eco-Anxiety.org says that “ecological grief ”refers to the feeling of sorrow and mourning at the current and projected future loss of our natural environment.”
It also says that “ecological grief, like other kinds of grief, is said to progress through five stages.”
The five stages of Ecological Grief (according to Eco-Anxiety.org)
1) Denial: arguing that it can’t be true, that other factors are at play.
2) Anger: asking why didn’t I and others realise this was happening earlier, finding the culprits, highlighting the causes and handing out blame.
3) Bargaining: looking for solutions, hoping to reverse the situation, and trying to convince others to take radical remedial action.
4) Depression: realising that remedial action isn’t working, internalising fears, and lost for a solution.
5) Accepting the reality of loss, and making plans for a new way forward, based on less or different resources.
Okay, so maybe you’ve identified that you’re going through this. You’re not alone. Heaps of others are too, from all ages and all walks of life.
So, what do we do about it?
Eco-Anxiety.org offer suggestions to keep in mind:
1. Listen to your anxiety. Be patient with it. Don’t run from it. It’s not something to fear.
2. Remember that climate change and the state of the environment are mostly not results of your everyday actions, so don’t hold yourself personally responsible!
3. Learn about the environment and climate change. A study in Australia recently showed, for example, that students of environmental sciences are less eco-anxious than students of other subjects.
4. If you haven’t done so already, decide which small actions you can regularly take in your daily life, to reduce your carbon and environmental footprints.
5. Engage with nature. Studies have shown that regular time in green spaces or near rivers, lakes and sea, is good for physical and mental health.
6. Nurture the habit of maintaining and improving your own physical and mental health. You’re an integral part of the ecosystem, so looking after yourself is part of looking after the ecosystem!
After coming to terms with my own eco-anxiety, I started to create my own toolkit for moving forward in my life in a more empowered way. For me this included:
- Spending more time learning and understanding the processes behind anything that I rely on in my life. How local can I get something? Can I choose something that comes from my nearby area or at least the same country if possible?
- Practicing gratitude for the access I do have to anything, from food to water to air to nature, as well as the relationships in my life and what possessions I choose to keep with me through life and treasure.
- Allowing myself to spend a little more to invest in a healthy and ecological option, over the cheaper and less sustainable option that might save me a few dollars.
- Taking responsbility for waste, for example choosing to save soft plastics and otherhousehold waste that doesn’t go in the recycle bin and taking them to dedicated recycle points, and picking up waste whenever it is on my path, sometimes taking a bag to collect a larger amount.
As well as eco-anxiety, there can be a double edge-sword of privilege guilt. Or, packaging guilt. In either case, I can remedy this guilt with empowered action.
What has helped me is to remember that everyone needs to take care of themselves in this world. If we paralyse ourselves over the guilt of meeting our own needs, because others can’t, this isn’t helping anyone either.
Start by empowering yourself, then empower others. This can be done through our work when we follow our inner compass and do what we love.
When it comes to packaging guilt, I have found that different life circumstances sometimes mean you can’t always go minimal or zero-waste.
For example, the pandemic meant dining in was no longer an option for many local food businesses.
What we can do is take responsibility for the direction our waste goes. Can it go in the recycling bin? Compost? Where we live, soft plastics can be taken to drop-off points at supermarkets. Can you research ways to recycle packaging where you live?
My biggest learning throughout my journey with all of this is: as a society, we are not going to get out of this by having a handful of people ‘doing eco well’ and most people unable to.
A stratified society is always going to be keeping us further from our collective ecological goals.
So, how can we share more? What other ways can we connect people to local abundance? How can we exchange value?
There is so much food abundance going to waste all over the world every year.
Maybe we can get better at foraging and sharing our backyard produce so that no one is ever going without.
I hope this brief guide to eco-anxiety has helped. I know becoming aware of this has helped me.
It might be uncertain times for all of us, but with uncertainty comes hope for a new vision. One that is better, fairer, and more abundant for all.
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