Eco-anxiety, climate change anxiety, environmental paralysis. It goes by many names but can be described as the overwhelming feeling of stress and despair you get when you consider the environmental damage done by humans in the last century. It’s a complex feeling, and can be a different experience from person to person.
You’re browsing the news and you see that another species has gone extinct, or a photo of our oceans full of plastic. This can inspire feelings of guilt, stress, anxiety, or even grief. It is concerning, and you should respond with concern to news like this because you care about the future of our planet; that said, it is important to re-center ourselves, and not let the despair prevent us from taking action.
After all, there is more news coming out and studies published every day that show that many environmental problems are reversible, and with some effort, we have seen some pretty major environmental impacts out of efforts made around the world.
So what do we do to get over that feeling?
- Do something about it!
It can feel impossible to make an impact when a lot of the damage is being done by multinational corporations, but there are ways you can make a major difference in your own neighborhood! Action is the best way to get over the feeling of hopelessness. Volunteer with a local organization working to make a change in your backyard! We Don’t Waste works to support our local environment by preventing as much food from going to our landfills as possible (which prevents highly volatile methane emissions). DUG and RE:Vision both allow you to participate in local community gardens and create free food for those in need.
- Take a break from the news.
It can be hard to escape bad news when it seems to be the only kind of news presented to us on a daily basis. Try to go a day or two without looking at the news. Unless your job requires you to stay up to date on everything the minute it’s happening, you won’t be too out of the loop by giving yourself a short break. In fact, studies show that we often consume too much media, which causes our nervous system to be overloaded with information and can lead to increased stress and anxiety in our daily lives.
- Focus on the GOOD
Believe it or not, there are countless groups working around the clock, all over the world, that are making a difference every day! There have been incredible innovations in green technology, more global political support, greater importance placed on systemic issues, and measures being taken to protect the most at-risk and important ecology. Did you know that there is a species of fungi that can eat and decompose plastic? And there are kelp forests being planted in the ocean to absorb atmospheric carbon and sink it deep into the ocean where it can be consumed by fish and completely removed from the cycle. How cool is that!
If podcasts are your thing, the Intersectional Environmentalist runs a podcast, The Joy Report, that focuses on news in climate solutions and environmental justice, but exclusively from an optimistic and joyful perspective!
- Let the feelings out, and let others know
You are not the only person experiencing these feelings. As more and more people become aware of the importance and the severity of climate change, more are experiencing eco-anxiety. In the first tip, we mentioned volunteering with local environmentally-based nonprofits. These can be a great way to connect you with other people working to heal our planet. There are also lots of clubs and groups that meet virtually and in-person that can offer you some support. Look for Facebook groups in your area focused on conservation efforts, or organizations supporting political action in your local government.
- Make sustainable changes at home
Sometimes even the smallest changes in your daily routine can lead to a larger personal impact, and can help reduce those feelings of helplessness over time. You can reduce your single-use plastic by swapping out products you currently use with others using more sustainable packaging like recycled cardboard or glass. Buy fruits and vegetables that aren’t packaged in plastic, and use your own produce bags when you shop.
It can be small changes like setting a timer for your showers or something as large as installing solar panels on your home. Everyone has access to different solutions, and what you can incorporate into your lifestyle will be different from your neighbor. Just figure out what makes sense for you, and don’t try to change everything at once! Not only will it feel good to make these changes in your life, but you’re voting with your dollar, a powerful tool for change.
- Learn more about climate solutions
By better understanding the issues surrounding climate change and environmentalism, you won’t fall prey to the dramaticized and melodramatic news stories meant to make you click on an article out of fear and confusion. It can also help you feel more connected to the planet, and inspire feelings of wonder and admiration for the planet we live on.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is an excellent example of compassion and appreciation for nature from an indigenous lens, and one that sees plants as our partners on the planet, not as tools.
How to Be a Climate Optimist by Chris Turner covers a dozen climate-related projects around the world, all working to save our planet with innovative technology and proactive communities.
There are many ways to consider eco-anxiety and how it may play a role in our sustainability journey. Remember to validate your concerns without dismissing your power to drive change. Feel your feelings and let them motivate you to take action. Eco-anxiety may be a familiar or foreign feeling to you, but regardless, we have many opportunities to healthily manage our emotions and transform our worries into meaningful action.