In today’s world, it can be hard to avoid media coverage related to climate change, global warming and the impact of these on the environment. Reports of weather-related disasters, including forest fires, heatwaves, storms and floods are more frequent, and we are becoming increasingly aware of issues such as increased pollution, deforestation, rising sea levels and loss of biodiversity. There is widespread concern about the impact of these events on our planet and this is having an impact on people’s mental health, particularly among children and young adults, in the form of eco-anxiety.
While it is important to stay informed and be aware of these issues, the prevalence of these stories can feel overwhelming. They are often reported in alarming and sensational ways, with a level of dread and doom associated. As a result, there has been a rise in mental health issues related to concerns about the environment and climate change, with eco-anxiety becoming a more and more common mental health difficulty.
What is eco-anxiety?
The American Psychology Association (APA) describes eco-anxiety as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one’s future and that of next generations”. Essentially, it is feelings of fear, worry, anger, powerlessness, stress or hopelessness about the future because of the impact of climate change. It is a sense of persistent worry about the Earth’s future. This anxiety is fueled by the uncertainty of the situation and a sense of uncontrollability.
Symptoms of eco-anxiety
Eco-anxiety can have many symptoms similar to other types of anxiety, including sleep disturbances, overthinking, appetite change, difficulty concentrating, panic, catastrophic thinking and physical symptoms such as tension, increased heart rate, rapid breathing and headaches. There are other symptoms, however, that are specific to eco-anxiety, which include:
- Anger towards those who are not taking climate change seriously or those that are contributing to environmental degradation
- Shame or guilt over your own carbon footprint
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Grief or sadness over the loss of wildlife populations or natural environments
- Dread about the future of the planet and of humanity
- Hopelessness, associated with feeling that the damage that has been done cannot be reversed
- Overwhelm at the extent of the issue and the potential consequences
How to manage eco-anxiety
Eco-anxiety is based on very real concerns, as the impact of climate change is scientifically proven. Managing eco-anxiety is about finding ways of managing the anxiety itself, as well as using the anxiety as a motivator to take action where you can, which will reduce the feelings of powerlessness and allow you to be proactive about an issue that you care deeply about.
Some tips for dealing with eco-anxiety:
Limit media intake
If all the coverage related to climate change is causing you stress and feels overwhelming, it is a good idea to limit your exposure to it. This does not mean avoiding the issue completely, but putting a limit on how much time you spend listening to or reading about these issues, based on how much feels manageable for you.
Use trustworthy news sources
The internet is a wonderful thing, however not everything reported online is accurate, and misinformation can fuel anxiety. Use reliable and reputable sources for your information to ensure that you are receiving valid information from trustworthy sources.
Stick to a few key topics
There are so many different issues that come under the umbrella of “environmental issues” that it can feel overwhelming and can be hard to know what to focus on or where to start when trying to support or help. Rather than trying to address or learn about all the related issues, try sticking to a couple of issues that feel particularly important to you. This can reduce the feelings of overwhelm.
Focus on what you can control
In life, there are always things that we can control and things that we can’t control. Focusing your time, energy and attention on things that you can’t control can increase stress and feelings of powerlessness. Instead, identifying what you can control and focusing on those things helps to create a more positive and proactive mindset and a sense of empowerment.
Use your emotions as motivation
Often anger and anxiety can be seen as negative emotions that you should try to avoid. But all emotions have a function, and anger and anxiety can be signals about the things that you care about. If you can use these feelings to motivate you to take action, they can be very powerful and helpful emotions. Allow your anger to drive you towards action and get involved in solutions, rather than dwelling on the problem.
Do what you can
There are always things that you can do to help. Focusing on solutions and what you can do, helps to reduce anxiety by creating feelings of empowerment, control and purpose. This could involve looking at lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce your carbon footprint, volunteering with a local environmental organisation, donating to a charity that supports environmental issues, or writing to your local government representatives to encourage them to take action on issues that you care about. Being part of the solution creates a sense of agency.
Connect with nature
Spending time in nature, whether that’s a swim in the sea, a picnic in a local park or a hike up a mountain, has many benefits for mental health and well-being. Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood and help relaxation. This is particularly helpful when it comes to eco-anxiety. Using the environment and nature to support you to manage your anxiety about these very things allows you to strengthen your relationship with the environment. It also acts as a reminder of what we still have and the beauty and power of nature.
This Earth Day, think of one thing that you can do to support our planet and its future and act to be part of the solution.
Get In Touch
If you are dealing with eco-anxiety or other mental health difficulties, talking to a mental health professional can be helpful. Don’t hesitate to get in touch to avail of our counselling services if you are struggling.