Feeling eco-anxious? Here's how to cope.

“We are capable of suffering with our world, and that is the true meaning of compassion. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings. Don't ever apologize for crying for the trees burning in the Amazon or over the waters polluted from mines in the Rockies. Don't apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a measure of your humanity and your maturity. It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal. That is what is happening as we see people honestly confronting the sorrows of our time.” - Environmental writer and activist Joanna Macy 

There’s no denying that the nature of the “climate emergency” is exactly as it has been titled: a legitimate emergency. Multiple governments’ concession to declare it so earlier this year is justified. We now find ourselves faced with the challenge of safeguarding our collective future, against the odds, literally in the last seconds of the last minute of extra time.

It’s hard to avoid anxiety on any level when you’re faced with the following incontrovertible facts. 

  • We are using the resources of 1.7 planets
  • The Earth’s 2019 Overshoot Day was July 29th

(The day at which a whole year’s worth of resources have been used and after which we are essentially borrowing from future resources – essentially ‘overspending’.)

  • We are at 1 degree of warming already
  • We have a 5% chance of avoiding at least 2 degrees of warming
  • Household consumption contributes to more than 60% of global GHG emissions

If anything, the seriousness of the situation isn’t being comprehended quickly enough by the masses, but for those who are fully aware of what’s going on, this situation brings with it an obvious and almost unavoidable side-effect: Anxiety. Climate anxiety is permeating the consciousness of society on a global scale, and it’s a very rational response to what is literally an existential crisis. Our ability to make rational decisions has been overshadowed by the realisation of the implications of climate change which are becoming more and more visible around the globe. 

This year, our annual Youth Culture Uncovered report brought to light the great emotional burden felt by Gen Z in relation to the seriousness of the climate emergency and their genuine uncertainty about their future.

Leo, 20, a member of Thinkhouse’s Love Network said, “I am overwhelmed by a sense of fear and anxiety around the uncertainty of my future and my fate. But also there is a huge amount of sadness and grief. When I look at the situation, I realise there is a possibility that I will never have a future...”

Though there shouldn’t be a lessening of the urgency in the need for change to save the planet, we can take steps to protect ourselves from the ill-effects of eco-anxiety as noted in this report by psychology professor Susan Clayton at the College of Wooster

This anxiety being felt with regard to climate change is not new to people old enough to recall the cold war, and therapists and coaches the world over who have realised the urgent need for systems to be put in place to cope with this new psychological burden are finding that therapeutic techniques developed to cope with nuclear anxiety during the cold war, are highly applicable to today’s climate anxious society. 

Caroline Hickman, a teaching fellow at the University of Bath and member of the executive committee of the Climate Psychology Alliance, is influenced by the idea of “deep adaptation” a school of thought brought about by an extremely urgent manifesto on climate change that has sparked extreme reactions from those reading it. However she has observed that there’s less space for anxiety when you’re taking positive steps towards change

The blueprint for us to temper our climate anxiety exists already in both practical behavioural changes, and emotional coping skills.

Practical changes that can ease the burden of the eco-anxiety include:

  1. Taking a health check of your house. Make an inventory of your household’s planetary impact with regard to plastic usage, energy waste and food waste. Small changes made by everyone are crucial. Catastrophic “we’re all screwed anyway” thinking won’t help the planet, or your mental health. Do your bit in your own home and your mind will feel better for it!
  2. Cut back on flying.

Flygskam” the Danish word meaning “Flight shame” is a real and worthwhile discomfort that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s natural to feel guilty about flying, and yes, flights will still be taking off whether you’re on them or not. But think about how smug you’ll feel on holiday if you take that extra day to get a ferry… Obviously flying might be unavoidable in some cases, but where possible, minimise it.

  1. Give up fast fashion. With the fashion industry being the 2nd biggest polluter in the world shopping for sustainable clothing has never been more crucial. We get it though, the likes of ASOS, Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing and the likes make it very difficult to resist. Unsubscribe from email updates if you get them; out of sight is out of mind. Choose pre-loved clothes. There’s second-hand and charity everywhere if you live in a city or major town. Read more in our article on Sustainable Fashion here. 
  1. Talk talk talk! Talk about the climate crisis. Talk about what you’re doing to lessen it. Arm yourself with facts and spread them like the wildfire you’re trying to prevent! You’ll bring more awareness, and potentially educate people on ways they might not have known to lessen th
  2. eir own impact.  

With regard to tackling eco-anxiety on a more emotional level,  a good place to start is with Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects, a framework that was written to cope with nuclear stress that is now being used to deal with eco-anxiety. 

  1. Celebrate the good. It might seem obvious, but keeping a gratitude journal is cited as one of the best ways to celebrate the good in our lives and the science is there to back it up and show that practising gratitude can lift mood, lower stress levels, improve social connections and strengthen immune systems. But if the idea of a gratitude journal isn’t your jam, here are some variations on the practice and also some climate-specific ones cited by Macy.
  2. Mourn the loss. The effects of climate crisis are already in motion, so let yourself mourn what is already lost to help with the processing of it in your mind. In her steps, Macy says we should acknowledge our pain and validate it as a wholesome response. The practice of this guided RAIN mediation (Recognising, Allowing, Investigating, Nurturing) can help with this.
  3. Imagine a better world.

This seems like a no-brainer but think about you you can effect change. Imagine the positive impact of everyone doing their bit and making a genuine difference to the planet. Even derive some hope in the viral explosion of awareness of the crisis. Both Oxford and Collins Dictionaries have chosen climate crisis terminology as their 2019 Word Of The Year. 

  1. Make plans to take action.  Finally, and this comes back to the first list of practical changes, make plans to take action. Because only positive action is going to change the situation. 

 

“The world we once knew is never coming back. Even while resolving to limit the damage, we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale and inevitability, binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere. We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending. Little molecules, random in their movement, add together to a coherent whole. Little lives do not. But here we are, together on a planet radiating ever more into space where there is no darkness, only light we cannot see”  - Kate Marvel, Climate Scientist and Writer