What is eco-anxiety? Medical News Today describes eco-anxiety as “a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster… based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change.” If you’re feeling this frustration, fear, and anxiety, you can take a tiny bit of comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. According to a national survey conducted by Yale and George Mason University, 70% of the population is worried about climate change. I am in that 70%. So as I write this piece, know that I am also writing it to myself as a guide and a tiny bit of reassurance.
Who can blame us for feeling this anxiety? The world is literally melting and flooding people’s homes. Whole species of animals and ecosystems are being starved, devastated, and wiped away. There are islands of trash and plastic floating in the ocean and being eaten by animals that think they’re food. We’re poisoning ourselves and future generations with all of the chemicals and synthetic ingredients we use. We’re reaching, or maybe have already surpassed the tipping point of no going back. No fixing the mess we’ve made and leaving it better for future generations. It’s a lot to think and worry about.
Don’t let go of your anxiety. This is literally counter to the point of this article, but I’m guessing that at least a part of the reason that you have eco-anxiety is because you care. You care about what is happening to the planet. You care about your future and the future of the next generation. You care about plants, animals, and ecosystems. You care. So rather than trying to get rid of the feelings of anxiety, let them become your motivation and a driver of action. Which takes us to the next point.
Do what you can. I once heard that depression is a symptom of focussing on the past and anxiety is because we’re focussing on the future, so living in the moment will bring us the most peace. I don’t know exactly how accurate that statement is, but it has become a mantra that I focus on and use to shift my perspective when I am feeling overwhelmed by either feeling. Beyond pondering though, I have found that action relieves anxiety. It not only provides an outlet and a temporary relief from the ever revolving anxious thoughts, but it allows us to influence the thing that is bringing us anxiety can help relieve the feelings of helplessness that the anxiety brings.
Here are some examples of action that you (and I) can take.
- Change your own behavior. You can’t change other people’s behaviour, but you can change your own. So if you’re worried about pollution, make changes to reduce your own impact on pollution. Buy less fast food, don’t shop online as much, bring your own reusable items when you go out. If climate change concerns you, try to reduce your carbon footprint by biking more, use cold water when showering and doing laundry, growing more trees and your own garden. If food waste makes you mad try meal planning and buying near-expiry or ugly foods at grocery stores (the ones that other people don’t want to buy). Zero in on some things that you’re very worried about and research personal changes that you can make that will have a positive impact on the planet. And keep looking for new things to improve! Start off with easy and slow things, but use the momentum to attempt newer things that are a bit more intimidating or challenging. Start with buying local produce, but maybe challenge yourself to beginning a garden next year. Or switch out all of your lightbulbs for LEDs and then start saving up to get solar panels.
- Talk to and encourage others to change theirs. One of the exciting things about making changes is sharing them with others and watching them change their behaviour too. So if you’ve found a local vendor that has the most delicious produce, or you tried baking your own bread, or have started biking to work, or quit buying fast food in lieu of making your own delicious meals, share the excitement and experience with someone else. Get your kids involved in cooking. Invite a coworker to join your morning bike. Share those delicious peaches with your neighbour. Challenge your sister to a bake-off. Get others involved in your changes. It will not only encourage you to stick with them, but it means that you’ll be helping others make positive changes as well, which is what we call the snowball effect.
- Lobby the government for change. There are still changes that we can’t make ourselves. Beyond boycotting companies, stores, producers, or products, we can’t create widespread influence until we start lobbying the government and showing that we want to see change. The actual steps of this can get a bit complex, but check out our How to Become an Activist article for some guidance on how to get started.
Unplug and let go. The last tip is the exact opposite of the first, because sometimes the worry and frustration can just become too much and we just need to let go. If you need just a temporary relief, put down your phone and close your laptop. Go walk outside, read a book, watch a funny comedy, bake some cookies, play a game. Do anything that will get you out of your own head and instead help you enjoy the present. As children we had a much better ability to be in the moment and find joy in the little things in life. It can help to readopt that perspective by thinking and behaving like a child. Sit in the grass and watch ants run around looking for food, draw some pictures for fun (don’t criticize your own abilities), sing loudly in the shower. Enjoy the moment because worrying about the future won’t do anything except ruin the present.
If you need a longer vacation from feeling eco-anxiety, remove the sources. Unsubscribe from sustainable channels and turn off the news. We’re so inundated with information and bad news every day that it can be hard not to be overwhelmed by everything. Although it’s not always good to just live in a bubble where we don’t know what is happening in the world, the opposite is also true. Living in a world where most news is focussed on the doom and gloom stories, it can feel like doom and gloom is all that is happening in the world.
Lastly, take comfort in the future of change. We can’t go back to an earlier time, all we can do is try to create the best possible future for ourselves. Whether it’s taking action or stepping back for self-care, don’t be afraid to put yourself first once in a while.