Climate and eco-anxiety
We can all feel worried about the future of our planet from time to time, but eco-anxiety is more than this. It is a fear of environmental doom. This can make people feel hopeless, sad, and even depressed. We take a look at what eco-anxiety is, its causes, who is most at risk, and how counselling can help.
What is eco-anxiety?
Flash floods, tornados, forest fires - climate change is a reality and is causing some people bouts of intense worry. These weather extremes, alongside the influence of climate change activists such as Greta Thunberg, have created a sharp and recent increase in public interest and media coverage on the subject. Whilst it’s important to stay informed and be active in combating climate change, this sense of dread can become debilitating at times for some people.
Even though it is not a new phenomenon nor a recognised medical condition, eco-anxiety (also known as climate anxiety or eco-distress) is now a term used to describe anxiety about climate change. It is a fear about our survival and the worry that we are not doing enough to change the future of the planet for the better. It can be referred to as a trauma that we are yet to experience.
What is the difference between ecological grief and eco-anxiety?
Ecological grief, also referred to as climate grief, is when we mourn or feel sad about the loss of ecosystems, nature, wildlife, and community due to climate change; this is heightened after a natural disaster where environments may be harmed. Indigenous people are more susceptible to ecological grief due to environmental changes and losses.
Eco-anxiety primarily involves a fear of the future, whereas grief is typically processing a loss that’s already happened. Eco-anxiety can be a catalyst for action but some who experience this distress also feel a sense of hopelessness, depending on where they are on the spectrum of climate anxiety.
What are the symptoms of eco-anxiety?
Eco-anxiety can cause a change in the way you feel about your everyday life, how you behave towards others, and your feelings about the future. It can affect your mental health and result in the following symptoms:
- intense worry about not doing ‘enough’
- physical symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, and restlessness
- sense of powerlessness
- overwhelming sensations to fix things
- frustration towards people who don’t acknowledge climate issues
- feelings of hopelessness
- racing thoughts about climate change
- intrusive thoughts about future scenarios
- anger towards those in power
- exhaustion or burnout
- post-traumatic stress disorder
If you are worried about your mental health or feel like you may have eco-anxiety, please seek help from your GP or contact a suitably qualified professional.
Who is most at risk of eco-anxiety?
As climate change affects everyone, anyone can experience eco-anxiety. A survey from the Office for National Statistics reveals that three-quarters of adults in Britain worry about climate change. People with pre-existing mental health conditions, children, and those in marginalised groups are more vulnerable.
Young people and climate change
Eco-anxiety affects children and young people especially as they are worried about the world they will inherit. According to a Save the Children survey, 70% of those surveyed are worried about the future of the planet and three-quarters want the government to take stronger action on the climate crisis. If you have children and are wondering how to talk to them about climate change, it’s advised to be honest about the situation but in a way that empowers them to make changes.
Indigenous people and climate change
People who live in indigenous communities often count on natural resources and live in ecologically sensitive areas. Extreme weather and natural disasters can impact indigenous people’s livelihood, as well as their community and cultural heritage, due to their close relationship with the natural environment.
How can I cope with eco-anxiety?
Caring about our planet Earth is important, but it can be detrimental to your mental health if it gets in the way of how you go about life. If you feel like you are losing control or going through bouts of intense worry, there are some things you can do to help you cope with and lessen the symptoms.
It’s important to look after yourself during this time. This can look like different things for different people. Some like to exercise to release those all-important endorphins. Others like to take things slower and go for a walk in nature. Sticking to the basics by eating nutritious food and staying hydrated can keep your mood stable. It might also be worth disengaging from the media occasionally. Educating yourself is important but getting swamped in ecological disasters can leave you feeling helpless, stressed, or lonely. Meditation is an effective way to reduce stress, bringing about a sense of connection with yourself and the world around you.
Join Hannah in this guided meditation for complete relaxation.
Be positive (without bypassing concerns)
If you are getting caught up in a negative loop, there are positive strategies you can use to reframe your worries and maintain hopeful thinking. In their article, How to cope with environmental anxiety, counsellor Mary Mcilroy talks about the benefits of remaining optimistic, “Remember, we need to achieve a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, not 100%. Optimism is a force multiplier so, in order to achieve, we need to believe.”
If you want to find pockets of positivity, it may be worth seeking a counsellor who can help you develop a toolkit of coping strategies.
Share your worries
Talking to an understanding friend or family member can be a good way to release some of the worries. Remind yourself that you are not alone in this. Making connections with a support network can help you feel less vulnerable. If you are looking to share your concerns with like-minded people, you might find joining an activist group to be an effective and supportive way to connect with others.
You may even be able to find a local or online eco-anxiety peer support group to help you develop the resilience to deal with an uncertain future. Alternatively, one-to-one counselling can also provide a safe space for you to talk through your anxious thoughts. Making a change without getting too overwhelmed is important; otherwise, you may end up with activism fatigue.
How can I care for the planet without feeling overwhelmed?
It’s possible to stay grounded while making some realistic changes to empower yourself. We have put together a few manageable ideas to help you care for the planet without getting too caught up in the distress of it all.
- Calculate your carbon footprint and learn how to reduce your impact at footprint.wwf.org.uk.
- Avoid fast fashion and recycle old clothes. A trip to the charity shop can always help us feel good.
- Make some changes to your diet whilst understanding that having a flexible eating structure is also worthwhile for some.
- Try some micro gardening if you live in an urban space. Or have a go at home composting if you do have a garden.
- Talk about your life choices with your friends whilst understanding there is only so much you can do to influence them.
- Make small changes around the house such as avoiding aerosol deodorants or leaving the tap running.
How can I find a counsellor for eco-anxiety?
Counsellor Amy Scott (BA Hons, PGDip, PGCE, MBACP) talks about how people struggling with eco-anxiety can find the right kind of support in her article, Finding a counsellor for eco-anxiety and climate grief.
She talks about the existential questions people are facing around life decisions, such as having children and the fear of being pathologised or brushed off “in a society that is quite often in denial”. As these are common concerns when looking for help, she walks you through some top tips such as widening your search, looking at social media or blogs, and asking for climate-aware therapy referrals.
Talking through how eco-anxiety affects your life with a counsellor can help you create a sense of balance. Together you can build a set of coping skills to help you develop flexibility, resilience, and optimism.
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