Eco-anxiety: What is it and how to manage it

Blog Contributor: Alexandra Cotrufo

Photo by Mushroomhead

Climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, forest degradation… If hearing these terms sparks feelings of fear, dread, anger, and sadness, you are not alone. The current environmental crisis has obvious impacts on the health of the planet, but it can also have extreme impacts on the mental and physical health of the humans living on it.

Eco-anxiety refers to persistent worries about the environment and the future of the planet. It is caused by negative changes in the earth’s climate and can be experienced directly (I.e., from witnessing a heavily polluted beach) or indirectly (I.e., from hearing about a forest fire through a news channel). Symptoms of eco-anxiety include (but are not limited to) trauma, shock, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, guilt, anger, sadness, and frustration. There are also other terms associated with eco-anxiety and our connection with the environment, such as solsalgia, which is used to describe emotional or existential distress caused by climate change, and topophilia, which is used to describe one’s bond with the environment and their mental, emotional, and cognitive ties to a place.

Eco-anxiety is not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which means it is not officially considered a diagnosable condition. However, mental health professionals and researchers are increasingly looking into the impacts of climate change on mental health and ways to combat and treat feelings of eco-anxiety. It is completely normal to worry about the health of the environment and the future of the planet – it means you care about climate change and want to see the implementation of sustainable environmental solutions! But excessive worry can interfere with daily life and make it difficult to accomplish simple tasks.

If you find yourself anxious and stressed about climate change, here are five things you can do to ease your fear and improve your overall wellbeing.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings

 The first step in dealing with eco-anxiety is to acknowledge your feelings and understand that they are completely valid and normal. A recent Climate Access report on Canadians’ opinions about climate change found that 45% of respondents are worried about the state of the environment and 25% are truly alarmed. There are many people in the world who share the same feelings you might have about climate change, so it’s important to remember that you are not alone and there are others who also care about the environment and want to create meaningful change.

  1. Talk about it 

Even though there are others who also experience feelings of eco-anxiety, it’s easy to feel alone when grappling with your emotions. Try to talk about your feelings and experiences with friends, family, and confidants. Talking through things with others can help you see things from a different perspective and alleviate some of the burden that comes with keeping your thoughts bottled up. You may also find that your loved ones share similar feelings with you, which you might find comfort in knowing.

  1. Take a break

Engaging in climate action can take a toll on your mind and body. It’s critical that you take a break whenever you feel you need one to disconnect from your phone/computer and focus on some psychological self-care. As put so perfectly in the national bestselling book All We Can Save (which we highly recommend reading!), “A stressed-out body and mind work less efficiently and effectively…By contrast, a balanced, resilient mind is a kinder and more compassionate, alert, productive, and effective mind.” So, take a walk, watch some guilty pleasure TV, go to the movies, hangout with friends, or do anything else that gets your mind off the state of the environment for a bit. Your body will thank you. 

  1. Maintain a healthy routine

Having a routine can help you feel more in control of your life and can reduce the stress that comes along with uncertainty and chaos. When environmental health and climate change feel out of your control, focus on the things in your life that you can control like your school, work, relationships, and hobbies. Make sure you’re also getting enough sleep and at least 30 minutes of daily exercise to help clear your mind and keep you feeling refreshed and alert.

  1. Do what you can

Climate action can be extremely overwhelming, and it’s difficult to know what exactly you should be doing to contribute to a more sustainable world. Small tasks can often feel meaningless or like they do not hold a lot of weight, but it’s important to remember that every step is a step in the right direction. It’s impossible for one person to fix the mistakes of millions, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have all the answers and be a “perfect” environmentalist. Whatever you’re able to do, do it! Some weeks you may be able to do more than others. But whether you pass on the straw or join a protest, remember that you are doing what you can.

If you find yourself struggling to cope with eco-anxiety and these tips do not work for you, please seek professional support to get the help you need. Brock’s Personal Counselling Services are available to all Brock students and are offered as part of the ancillary fees that students pay annually. Remember to always be kind to yourself. You are not alone. We are in the fight for climate justice together.

References:

https://www.psd.gov.sg/challenge/ideas/trends/eco-anxiety-the-psychological-impact-of-climate-change

https://www.healthline.com/health/eco-anxiety#is-it-normal

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1277882/

https://www.climatepsychologyalliance.org/handbook/451-eco-anxiety#:~:text=Coined%20by%20the%20philosopher%20Glenn,is%20subject%20to%20environmental%20degradation

https://climateaccess.org/blog/what-do-canadians-really-think-about-climate-change