Scientists have been warning us of the consequences of the changing environment for over a hundred years. Still, environmental awareness has become a lot more prevalent in modern society, with media outlets able to spread information quickly. In addition, the media is now providing more correct information on climate change.
Alongside the exponential rise of eco-awareness, a newly described phenomenon has come to the party: eco-anxiety. Confronting news of rising temperatures, pollution, species loss and ocean acidification is plastered everywhere we look, and rightly so!
The vast environmental issues can leave us feeling hopeless, deflated and quite frankly, terrified. How do we continue to maintain optimism in the face of such environmental pressures? How do we cope when we can’t make perfect choices at every turn?
This bubbling anxiety has the profound ability to hold you back from living by your eco-friendly values and can have an impact on your mental health. You must know that this feeling is normal! Despite these intense feelings, some of the most famous and successful environmental activists still have hope, and you should too. This post will share our best tips for overcoming eco-anxiety to support ourselves towards a kinder life.
What Is Eco-Anxiety?
Simply put, eco-anxiety is feelings of fear, worry, stress, depression or panic relating to any ecological problem. It often manifests in the sense of hopelessness and the thought that there’s nothing you can do to change the course of environmental degradation.
Eco-anxiety is not an official condition or disorder but is described by many official sources. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes it as a “chronic fear of environmental doom”. These top psychologists theorise that this anxiety comes from our environmental identity being threatened by forces we feel are outside our control. Your environmental identity is how you relate your personal emotions, history and connections to the natural world.
Those whose values align closely with the environment and the natural world around them can suffer from this anxiety greatly as something personally close to them is under serious threat. Eco-anxiety is becoming more widespread due to the increasing threat, with many lives and futures in the firing line from the implications of environmental degradation. Pollution threatens human health and the changing climate is already displacing communities from their homes.
Your Feelings Are Valid
Despite not being officially recognised as a mental disorder in internationally recognised psychological diagnostic manuals, eco-anxiety is real. It’s recognised and discussed throughout psychology journals. This emergence of ecopsychology aims to study humans' relationships with nature and can help us unlock our true potential to influence change.
Feeling anxious about the environment does not mean there is anything wrong with you. Instead, it is a testament to your values and what is important to you. In fact, the APA concluded that two-thirds of people feel some kind of anxiety regarding the environment.
This paralysing anxiety is valid. Eco-anxiety symptoms are likened to those of trauma, grief and PTSD. While it is normal to feel this way, it is not constructive when this feeling becomes a roadblock to making meaningful change.
Have you ever thought, “what’s the point?”, “It’s not like it will make a difference”, “everything is doomed anyway”? Then you may be being held back from eco-anxiety. Having battled through these feelings myself, here are some ways we can all use to move through these self-sabotaging thoughts and to improve our own mental health and live a more eco-friendly life.
I’ll tell you right off the bat, as someone who has struggled with stress management for as long as I can remember, when someone says “stay positive”, it causes some eye-rolling.
If you are the same, you may be dismissive of the "stay optimistic" tip. But hear me out. Some of the most famous environmental activists still have hope. It can be baffling that the people who have seen the absolute worst of the world still believe in positive change.
For example, Sir David Attenborough has watched hundreds to thousands of species become endangered and extinct over his lifetime and career in natural sciences. But he still spreads hope, optimism and positivity through his work as a writer, broadcaster and activist. In his latest work, he shares the reasons he has hope for the natural world.
The childhood hero of many of us, Dame Jane Goodall is in the same boat. She has lived through generations of environmental degradation and destruction, yet she educates, basing her beliefs with hope for the future.
If these iconic eco-activists still believe in your ability to change the world, then so should you.
Connect With Your Community
When suffering from eco-anxiety, one of the worst thoughts is, “how can I possibly make a difference?” But, sorry to be cheesy again, you are not alone, figuratively OR literally!
Individuals, groups, and communities share your environmental values; you just need to find them! Joining local environmental volunteer efforts such as beach clean-ups or wildlife monitoring is a sure-fire way to meet like-minded people. Online eco groups are also widespread over most social media to connect you to a support group for your journey.
Feeling isolated in your eco journey can leave you feeling hopeless, but joining forces with other like-minded people can bolster your optimism and extend your reach and impact. Forming these bonds and communities are proven to improve your sense of belonging and identity.
Share your eco values with your friends, families and communities and look further to find like-minded people to share the emotional load that comes with your passions.
Part of the wave of eco-anxiety has you diminishing your true impact, making you feel that you don’t make a difference. But what truly makes a difference is social change, and you’re already a part of that puzzle! Every little bit adds to real and meaningful change.
We tend to feel guilt when we have to make a choice that is not eco-friendly. But we must remember we are only human, and we are not perfect. Your intentions and values speak volumes, even if you aren’t always able to follow through with them. Stay grounded and be realistic about what is achievable for you. We are all at different points of our eco journeys.
If you find yourself caught in a moment of “green guilt”, take a moment to be mindful and take some deep breaths. Step back and look at the big picture of your overall environmental impact and not just the current moment. You can also make a promise or commitment to make up for it later with other eco-friendly actions.
Be Kind And Resilient
Working towards an eco-friendly life can sometimes feel like we are swimming against the current (sometimes we are!). Be kind to yourself and others who are working to live a more thoughtful life.
When you feel overwhelmed, find moments of mindfulness in nature and with animals where you can enjoy what our planet has to offer and reconnect with your reasons and your motivations.
Lastly, know this anxiety may not go away overnight. You are part of a change that is a lot bigger than you can imagine, and you will make a difference! Your resilience will build as you confront these feelings head-on.