What is eco-anxiety and what can you do about it?
Updated: Apr 19, 2022
With the way knowledge and information are becoming more and more accessible as a result of technology, people are becoming more and more aware of global warming and its various effects on the earth, on animals, and humans. At first, threats such as excessive flooding and a rise in sea levels were far away consequences, but as time goes by, we are starting to see more and more changes around us as a result of pollution and global warming and these events have started gaining worldwide news coverage. Although that is important for the sake of informing and bringing awareness about these issues, the knowledge of these perils and disaster, has started to spark a form of distress and fear in the minds of people. This is known as Eco-anxiety and it is more common than people think.
What is Eco-anxiety exactly?
Eco-anxiety is anxiety and distress caused by an insistent worry about the earth’s future and its inhabitants. It happens when your body responds to perceived threats with its fight-flight-freeze survival instinct. Generally, anxiety-related issues are born from irrational fears, but climate change is a very real threat, and some people consider that in this case, anxiety is working the way it should. It pushes humankind into taking action and searching for solutions against climate change for the sake of its survival.
What are its symptoms?
It shows itself foremost as fear for animals and human habitats that might be hurt as a result of the changes in weather and temperature. This would be understandable considering the rise in flooding and wildfires in the last few years. Some people might find themselves deeply touched by the harm already caused to animals and human habitats. The most obvious symptom is the presence of feelings of hopelessness surrounding the way the planet is changing, but here are other symptoms possible :
Anger and frustration directed on climate change deniers and individuals that take no effort toward stopping it, these people often belonging to older generations.
Depression, anxiety, or panic.
Obsessive thoughts surrounding climate change.
Feelings of guilt related to our contribution to climate change, such as our carbon footprint.
Grief over the lost wildlife and natural environment.
Existential dread and fatalist thinking.
Post-traumatic stress is a result of the experienced effects of climate change.
These emotions can also add to already existing issues such as sleeping and eating issues.
This stress can also affect the relationship you might have with the people around you such as your family, friends, and lovers, especially when they do not share your same view on this issue.
These concerns about global warming and climate change might be so strong and overwhelming, that they might push you toward ways of escaping these emotions. Although escapism might sound good at first glance, this stops us from properly processing our feelings and it might push us toward unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohols which would severely impact our daily life and our mental health.
What is the source of these feelings?
Even though global warming is an international issue that extends beyond one’s self, it is also an issue we are deeply connected to as individuals. After all, the earth is the source of life and it provides all that we need as humans to exist, whether that is in the physical or mental sense. Even though we might perceive the threat of global warming as some faraway issue, it’s completely normal to feel some grief related to the issues that plague the earth.
Here are some factors that can be behind having Eco-anxiety :
Even though everyone knows the effect of global warming, seeing them play out is different. Indeed some things such as increase wildfires and floods are things that directly impact people and some might have directly experienced them. Some people might have lost their house or their loved one even in these events, and that leaves many people with a lot of trauma. Even people who haven't been affected by such big effects of climate changes might be affected by more subtle consequences such as extreme heat or rainfall. Even though these are relatively more subtle changes, they are important nonetheless as they remind us of the reality of the issue of global warming.
Excessive focus on news coverage
While bringing awareness to this topic is important, drowning yourselves in coverage of natural catastrophes might enhance your stress level.
Guilt on our contribution to the problem
We all impact the earth to a certain degree because of our carbon footprint or our use of plastic, and that makes us feel the guilt of our behavior.
Sometimes this brings in us a feeling of hopelessness because we feel that we can’t escape these habits and that even if we do, it might change much.
What to do to feel better
Even though it might seem hopeless, there are still things you can do to work on your mental health.
Work on developing better habits
Adopting more sustainable and environmentally friendly habits can help you lighten your guilt. Try to limit your carbon footprints by using a bike instead of a car when you can try to work with organizations that fight against climate change and maybe volunteer to work with them.
Work toward Acceptance
The issue of climate change is a daunting and stressful problem, but denying it, won’t do any good. Work toward acknowledging your feelings of helplessness and stress. Try to forgive yourself and work forward instead of getting fixated on past behaviors that were less than environmentally friendly. Be kind to yourself and others, and finally, try to spend some time in nature for its calming properties.
Engage with your community
Try and reach out to the people around you, such as your neighbors and family. Try to go to or organize events to bring awareness and work forward as a community to help the earth through volunteering to plant trees for example. You might find peace in knowing that many others feel the same way you do and work toward change.
Climate change is an important issue that affects us and often brings us feelings of Eco-anxiety but by working on ourselves and as a collective, we can try and make things better both for our mental health and the earth.