Eco anxiety. It’s real, and I definitely feel it. Sadly, I’m not alone. Psychological distress associated with our climate crisis is on the rise and The American Psychiatric Association now recognizes climate change as a growing threat to mental health. An increasing number of people, young and old, are experiencing fear, depression, and anxiety about the alarming news related to climate change and environmental degradation.
What’s Prompting This Increase in Eco Anxiety?
A Sense of Helplessness
What’s prompting this surge in eco anxiety? A chief cause is a feeling of utter helplessness in the face of insurmountable and intractable environmental problems. For those who closely follow this issue, they recognize the existential threat to our planet, and that realization (understandably!) can be terrifying.
Climate Change is Here
Once an amorphous concept that would “perhaps” happen “one day,” climate change is now a reality. I bet most of us have experienced an extreme weather event, from sweltering heat waves and lingering droughts to torrential downpours and widespread flooding.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint which events are caused by climate change, there’s growing evidence to show the connection between a warming world and the increase in abnormal weather events. These extreme weather events aren’t only life-threatening, they’re economically devastating to individuals and communities.
The Repercussions of Years of Federal Inaction
Let’s face it: for years, the Trump administration had vigorously rolled back scores of environmental protections and regulations. Although the current administration is actively working to reinstate environmental protections, I find it gut-wrenching to learn how so many of the previous administration’s actions caused permanent damage to air and water quality, biodiversity, and natural open spaces.
Fear for Your Children’s Future
If you have children, the thought of such a grim and bleak future for them can be acutely distressing. This worry is compounded by the fear that you could be powerless to help them.
How to Ease Your Eco Anxiety
So now that I’ve thoroughly depressed my readers (and myself), let’s take a deep breath and consider what we can do to cope with our eco anxiety.
Do One Small Thing … And Then Another
First, recognize that you’re not powerless. You have the ability to make a difference, even if it’s by making a small change in your daily life.
Channeling your fears into action, whether it’s through simple changes or more involved initiatives, will ease that feeling of helplessness and build a sense of personal resilience. You’ll also be a role model for your family, neighbors, and community!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Reduce your carbon footprint by driving and/or flying less.
- Say no to plastic straws. Then, take it one step further and say no to all single-use disposables.
- Reduce food waste by composting excess food or “repurposing” leftover food.
- Eat less meat and more veggies! Our diet is a key contributor to climate change.
- Reduce your consumption and reuse what you have as much as possible. When you need to dispose of unwanted items, recycle, but recycle right.
- Switch to natural and healthy landscaping practices.
Connect With Nature
Use nature as your salve to heal and find serenity. In fact, spending time outdoors is actually good for your mental and physical health. Research shows that people who spend at least 120 minutes per week outside in nature report better health and psychological well-being.
Connect With Others
Join a group of other like-minded individuals who care about the environment. There’s comfort in knowing that you’re not alone and there are others, just like you, who want to make a difference. This simple act of sharing concerns and fears with others can be cathartic.
You may be inspired to participate in, or even spearhead an environmental initiative. Refocusing your attention from your individual worries to a “higher” calling can bring meaning to your life and a sense of personal accomplishment.
Support Local and State Initiatives
Support and vote for candidates who have a strong environmental agenda. You could even volunteer for their campaign and help shape their environmental policies. The very act of supporting a leader on sustainability and environmental issues can ease those feelings of helplessness.
Or, if you really want to go the extra distance, run for office. If I could do it, you can too!
Empower Your Child to Help Ease Their Fears
Eco anxiety among children and teens is rampant. In fact, a recent survey reveals that most American teens are frightened by climate change.
For younger children, in particular, it’s difficult to understand abstract concepts. What they’re more likely to remember are the terrifying soundbites, like “the world is going to end.”
To help calm fears, first, listen to your child to learn what are his or her concerns. Resist the temptation to dismiss these fears. Instead, stay positive as you educate your children about sustainability and conservation. Give them hope and the confidence that they have the power to make a change.
Start them young: teach your child to be an eco kid by steering her towards personal, environmentally focused, activities that she’ll enjoy. The very act of working to ease your child’s eco anxiety will help you both to work through your fears and join together to take action.
For older children, empower them to take action on their own. I’ve been blown away by the sheer force of the youth climate movement. I recently attended and watched with admiration, a climate strike organized solely by our town’s high school students. What impressed me most was their ability to work across the various schools and mobilize a large group to participate. They did it all on their own.
Know When to Seek Help
Sometimes the fear and anxiety are debilitating, and professional help is needed. In such instances, consult with your general practitioner for guidance on appropriate forms of treatment.