When headlines feature bushfires, the burning of Amazon, rising temperatures, and melting glaciers, a rising sense of helplessness and anxiety is only natural. This persistent sense of doom and alarm can have an impact on our mental health. While we do understand the effect of climate change on our physical health, its impact on our mental health is still largely unknown. Eco-anxiety, or anxiety over our environment, is only now being recognized.
In July 2018 a paper titled Deep Adaptations was published in a blog, sending thousands into a tizzy. Although the paper was rejected by peer-reviewed journals because it did not meet certain standards for publishing, this little detail did not matter to the readers. A sense of anxiety over our environment perhaps just needs a little push to the surface. If you feel a sense of alarm or anxiety at the thought, you are not alone. Eco-anxiety is more common than you think. The good news is that it can be a tool for change and reform.
What is Eco-Anxiety?
Eco-anxiety is the chronic feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious over the state of the environment. While it is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychological Association referenced the term in its 2017 manual on Mental Health and Climate Change. Also known as climate change anxiety, reports of eco-anxiety have been surfacing across the world, from besieged communities to developed western nations.
According to a survey conducted by the APA, 68 percent or two-thirds of American adults reported feeling eco-anxiety. In the 18-34 years age group, nearly half (47 percent) of the participants admitted that the stress was affecting their daily life. But it isn’t just the US where the concern over climate change has evoked anxiousness in the population.
While we may not have global figures, the growing effect of climate change on the mental health of people has been making headlines for some time now. In Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald carried a survey by a youth organization ReachOut, which found that students (aged 14-23) reported feeling very anxious or somewhat anxious about climate change. Catastrophic events like the Australian bushfire in January 2020 can trigger the eco-anxiety, bringing out fear and trauma.
According to the APA, this stress can build up over time and lead to problems like depression, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse. It can also have an impact on the community level, leading to both long-term and short-term changes. It can increase interpersonal as well as intergroup aggression. The threat to national cohesion and identity can make matters worse. For people living in areas that are under direct threat of climate change, fear and anxiety are even more acute. A 2018-19 Greenlandic Perspectives national survey found that over 92 percent of the respondents agreed that climate change was happening and 26 percent had personally experienced its effect. 38 percent reported feeling very or moderately afraid.
How Eco-Anxiety Could be a Good Thing
Now for the good news. Despite the very real fear and stress it can trigger, eco-anxiety can actually be a good thing. This is because it is accompanied by a greater awareness of the state of our planet and a higher urgency on taking individual action. For instance, the APA survey also found that more than half of American adults (56 percent) believe that climate change is the most important issue today. Even more people, 60 percent, reported changing their behavior to reduce their impact on climate change.
It can be used to take concrete, community-based actions. The Greenlandic Perspectives survey found that 75 percent of the respondents felt that their government should focus on alternative sources of energy. Similarly, 70 percent of the respondents in the APA survey were willing to work with their community to reduce emissions.
How to Manage Eco-Anxiety?
Managing eco-anxiety often overlaps with environment-friendly practices and lifestyles. It can hence, have a domino effect of adding to measures that counter climate change. Here are five simple steps you can take to manage your eco-anxiety:
Living in Line With Your Values
The best way to counter anxiety is to start living according to a more environment-friendly manner. While we cannot all be Greta Thunberg, we can all certainly contribute in our own way. Individual action matters and has the potential to bring in massive changes. If you want a direct correlation, click on this link to see how individual action can help in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. You can read our article on easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
Connect With Nature
Caring for the environment cannot be complete without connecting with nature. It also has a direct impact on our mental health. It does not necessarily mean going on a trip to the jungle. It can be something as small as caring for the plants in your balcony or spending time with your pets. Our article tells you how emotional help animals can help ease anxiety. A 2020 research, published in Frontiers in Psychology showed how spending as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting helped the psychological and physiological health of college students.
Connect With Like-Minded People/Organizations
Sharing your concerns and anxiety over climate change can help you understand and deal with your fear. It also gives you an opportunity to make a change in your community. You can connect with people through social media. On a broader level, you can sign up for an organization working in the area of environmental protection. Some people find their solace in activism, while some find it through connecting with others.
Make Mindful Purchases
Making a change can be as simple as being mindful of what you buy, where you shop, and how it is sourced. We know that rising consumerism has led to many of the harmful practices destroying our planet. As a UN paper points out, the choices we make can go a long way in mitigating this damage. It can also lead to policy changes. For instance, the campaign to plastic straws in the UK resulted in legislative action. Knowing that your choices can help this change also helps in easing your anxiety. Start with small steps, such as making sustainable purchases. Our article on sustainable snacking can help you make better food choices.
Junk the All or Nothing Mindset
One of the major causes for anxiety is the all or nothing mindset. Many people find themselves anxious because they are unable to change every one or to see a drastic change in policy. But remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Every small change counts and so does every small support. So, acknowledge the smallest contribution and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they are.