Just when you thought you didn’t have enough to talk about with your therapist, the climate crisis now has you trying to figure out how to cope with eco-anxiety. As defined by the American Psychological Association (that’s right it’s THAT official) eco-anxiety is the “chronic fear of environmental doom.”
It can result from a fear of the unknown, not being able to predict the future of our planet. It can manifest itself as PTSD following a traumatic climate-related even such as a hurricane or flood. It can also take the shape of helplessness, feeling like all your planet-friendly efforts are just a drop in the bucket of our rising oceans.
If you’re feeling any of these emotions, below are a variety of strategies you can use to cope.
1) Adjust your lifestyle where you can
When determining how to cope with eco-anxiety, aligning your actions with your eco-friendly values can be a great place to start. By doing something positive for the planet, you’ll feel as though you have some type of control. With that said, don’t overdo it. If you try to overhaul every area of your life with sustainable swaps and eco-friendly practices you’ll quickly become burnt out and then hey hey, Mr. Anxiety will be knocking on your door again. To avoid this, focus on making just a few simple sustainable swaps. You can even determine which swaps make the most sense for you by taking this quiz. Once you have your swaps identified, don’t worry about “greenifying” other areas of you’re life until you’re good and ready (and if you never feel ready, that’s okay).
2) Understand that you are not the sole answer to climate change
Ok, what I’m about to say here is going to seem contradictory to my first point, but follow me on this journey. 100 energy companies have been responsible for 71% of all industrial emissions since human-driven climate change was officially recognized. This means that shopping second hand and using bamboo straws are not going to solve the climate crisis. We’ll need regulations and policy changes to force big businesses to alter their habits and create systemic change (more on that in a moment). Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t make lifestyle adjustments — making changes at a personal level and talking about the importance of eco-friendly actions spreads awareness, which is exactly what is needed to see change on a larger scale. However, the takeaway here is that you should not feel responsible. If you forget your tote bags and have to use plastic bags at the grocery store don’t beat yourself up. Mother Earth knows you’re trying.
3) Advocate for systemic change
So now that you’re comfortable with the fact that you can’t solve this crisis alone, advocate for systemic change. Register to vote, engage with your community, join a climate strike march, see if you can start an environmental club at school or work. Feeling as though you’re doing something to contribute to the larger movement can be very empowering. It will also allow you to form more relationships with like-minded people, which brings me to my next point….
4) Build an environmental community
Making human connections is proven to help alleviate anxiety. So while friends and family may not share your affinity for saving planet earth, good news is, there is an endless supply of people on the internet who do. Join environmental Facebook groups or follow eco Instagram pages (there are a whole bunch of us out there who focus on progress, not perfection). I also highly recommend visiting brightly.eco, a website that brings together eco change makers in a positive, uplifting fashion.
5) Engage in physical / eco-friendly activities
Physical activity will alleviate all sorts of anxious feelings, not just those of the eco-variety. However, if you want to really kick that eco-anxiety where the sun don’t shine, pick a physical activity that also helps the environment. There are a variety of 5ks (such as this one from The World Wildlife Fund) that support conservation solutions. If running isn’t your thing (I don’t blame you), you could go for a hike, join a local gardening organization, or opt to bike instead of drive to work (or school, or the library or the club, whatever floats your boat).
6) Turn off your social media for the day
Similar to physical activity, a social media hiatus is just plain good for the soul. Removing yourself from the social-sphere allows you to detach from the negative news that inundates our feeds every day. On top of that, you won’t be able to compare yourself to others posting about their eco-friendly lifestyles, nor will you feel enraged or hopeless when people show off their very unsustainable lifestyles (*cough cough* #OOTD enthusiasts posting their 97th fast fashion curated outfit).
7) Educate yourself mindfully
Feeling out of the loop can invoke feelings of anxiety (hellooo FOMO). Which is why if you are a planet earth advocate, it’s important to be educated on the issues, but not overwhelmed with information. So, when looking to gain more eco-knowledge you should do so strategically. Don’t just click on every article with the word “climate” that pops up in your news feed. I highly recommend using an app like Feedly which allows you to create news feeds catered to specific interests. By adding publications to each feed you’ll be able to keep up to date with the news that interests you the most, without trying to take it all in in the same place where you watch funny cat videos and like pictures of your nephew’s latest art project.
8) Practice mindfulness
At its core, eco-anxiety is a fear of the future. It’s a fear of what will happen if we don’t find a last-minute-Criminal-Minds-knocking-down-the-door-just-in-time-to-save-the-child like solution to this crisis. And while yes, we need to fix things so that our children, nieces, nephews and Timmy down the block who eats crayons can enjoy everything earth has to offer, it’s also important to enjoy life now. So when you’re feeling overwhelmed with thoughts of the future try this tactic: identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Feel yourself planted in the present and let that eco-anxiety float away.