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how to quell your 'eco-anxiety' when the world is seemingly on fire

photo by Leonid Danilov 

Author: Becca Schmidtke 

The past two weeks have been monumental for the struggle against climate change. Millions of people all around the world have joined forces to protest against government inaction on environmental policy. With the news cycle filled with dire predictions about the future of the planet, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and increasingly anxious. bare market blogger Becca outlines what eco-anxiety is and ways to combat it. 

If you’re like me, the increase of news coverage on climate change and its consequences has been quite anxiety inducing. I mean, how can people not feel immense panic about the state of the world when it seems like everyday there is a new story about how we are doomed. 

Every time I open Facebook or look at the news, there is an endless stream of new reports on climate change and the impending disaster it will bring. With the Amazon burning, and the N.W.T.’s record wildfire season, it literally feels like the world is on fire. It’s overwhelming to say the least. I can go from tagging my friend in a funny meme to spiralling into existential dread at the state of the world. My newsfeed algorithm has become a perfectly tailored mix of Lizzo content, Office memes, and climate change news. A pretty wild combo that has me feeling Good as Hell one minute to sinking into a panic attack as fast as the ice caps are melting the next. 

It’s especially infuriating when it feels like our world leaders aren’t taking it seriously. The environmental disasters we are seeing grip our world have wide-scale global repercussions and global leaders need to step up to make sweeping and effective changes.Why is it that as an eco-conscious person I can feel so guilty if I forget to bring my reusable coffee cup with me to Tim’s yet politicians like Doug Ford and Donald Trump (can we really call them politicians though?) are seemingly fine outright denying the existence of this very real and pressing global issue? From the onslaught of bad news and inaction from our global leaders it’s easy to feel powerless and let your ‘eco-anxiety’ take over but by understanding and identifying that anxiety and looking at what we can do to take control, we can try to regain some power in the midst of this global crisis.

photo by Nathan Cowley 

what is eco-anxiety? A fancy word for feeling “bummed out”?

The American Psychological Association describes eco-anxiety as the “chronic fear of environmental doom”.  It’s a relatively new term that has come about as more awareness grows around climate change and its effects on our planet. Seeing the constant stream of news coverage has caused many to experience an increased sense of anxiety and powerlessness and it’s easy to when it feels like we are stuck in a bad news cycle. 

Disassociation from the issue is a big part of eco-anxiety, with many people feeling so overwhelmed by the news surrounding the issue of climate change that they cut off emotional connection to it, even leading some to deny the existence of climate change. After disassociating from the issue many people eventually come to a “moment of realization” where they confront themselves on the fact that climate change is real and slowly come to terms with it. During this period of realization many people experience a wide range of emotions as they grapple with this new reality. Climate activist  and leader of the school strike climate protest movement Great Thunberg herself developed eco-anxiety symptoms

According to Psychology Today, here are some of the symptoms 

  • Obsessive thinking
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Insomnia
  • Sense of dread 
  • Restlessness 
  • Panic attacks

Working through eco-anxiety can be a very draining experience and can take time to come to terms with. However, once you make it through to the  acceptance stage of eco-anxiety, many people feel motivated to take climate action. However, like all battles with mental health, these stages of recovery from eco-anxiety are not linear. 

It’s important to acknowledge how you feel and what will best serve you depending on how you are feeling. I have been struggling with this myself, which is what motivated me to write this article, to research exactly what eco-anxiety is, what I can do to help myself work through it, and to hopefully educate and help others dealing with this feeling.

Becca at the People’s Climate March in 2017

what can you do if you’re feeling overwhelmed?

Taking care of yourself is absolutely vital in any sort of battle with your mental health, the same applies when working through your eco-anxiety. Take time to know yourself and what works best for you to make you feel good and connect to the present moment. For me, what helps is taking control in situations where I can, like writing this post and working on living as low waste as I can. Getting involved in activism is another great way to channel your anxiety into action and this is something that I find to be personally helpful. By confronting my eco-fears, educating others on these issues, and engaging in acts of activism, like protests and writing to government officials; I feel like I can make myself heard, that in some small way I occupy space in these issues and can push for change. 

Just remember that as great as activism is, it can be very draining. Climate change is a complex and overwhelming issue. It’s awesome to fight for change but it’s also extremely important to recognize when you are feeling burnt out and need to take a break. 

This is something that I personally struggle with but have been working on. It’s been hard for me to know when to tap out.  I feel guilty because when there are so many issues that need addressing it can feel selfish to switch off or look the other way. 

I think is something a lot of people might struggle with but it’s okay to take time for ourselves and to enjoy life while being aware of broader issues in the world around us. Being mindful of this will go a long way towards making you feel good about yourself and what you’re doing. 

No matter what you are doing or working on, being kind to yourself is always the priority. It’s better for you and the world, if you are happy, healthy and rested. A great way to do this and still feel connected to nature is getting outside! Going for a walk in a park, taking a hike through a conservation area, or even just a quick stroll through your neighbourhood can help you get out of your head and get more connected to what’s around you. 

Of course there are a lot of other ways to help work through your eco-anxiety. Here is a list of some things you can do to help lower your eco-anxiety:

  • Hang out with your friends or connect with your support system/ person
  • Join a community group or support a charity that you align yourself - find a group in Canada here
  • Calculate your carbon footprint and work on ways to reduce it (this is a great way to feel in control of the situation and set personal goals for yourself) 
    • Learn about leading a low waste lifestyle here
    • Buy low waste and package free products from places like bare market 
  • Research where the products you buy come from and stop supporting businesses who have a poor environmental record (like Nestle
  • It’s an election year! Vote for a candidate and party that has a strong environmental policy and track record
  • Find some good news in the stream of bad to realize there are tons of people working to make sure we aren’t doomed (see section below)
  • Talk to your doctor and/or therapist about how you’re feeling 

mixing up the bad news with some good!

photo by Markus Spiske

Let’s end this on a positive note, shall we? Yes, climate change, and eco-anxiety are scary and we aren’t all going to be able to do every little thing to eliminate environmental impacts but we don’t have to! All we have to do is take care of ourselves, and do our part to combat climate change. Even though it may seem that there is only bad news out there related to the environment, it’s not all doom and gloom. Check out this collection of good news to get you feeling good again about the future of our environment and hopefully keep you motivated to do more work to combat climate change! 

There are a lot of reasons to feel good about our environment and our future, unfortunately  sometimes they can be harder to find amongst the bad. Climate change is overwhelming and scary but I think we are in a position now to make real headway in tackling it. Everyday more and more people are becoming educated on what climate change is and what the dangers are and what we need to do to minimise the outcomes. While the consequences are dire, there are more people than ever paying attention to these issues and working on solutions and that does give me hope that we can save our planet from peril. 

Joining the fight against climate change and practicing self-care are great tools for fighting your eco-anxiety. The battle isn’t over but it isn’t time to give up hope yet, so please don’t let your eco-anxiety get the best of you and I’ll try to not let mine get the best of me; we are all in this together and together we can take effective climate action!

 

Author Bio: Rebecca Schmidtke graduated from Queen's Univerity with a degree in Global Development. She currently works in the Non-For-Profit Sector and volunteers with Amnesty International. Rebecca has always been passionate about the environment and strongly believes that climate action is the only forward to create long-lasting sustainable development. She believes that empowering people to take climate action into their own hands through education and political activism is one way we can all be engaged with fighting climate change and work towards a better and greener future.

 


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