Welcome to PROTECT, Season Four. I hope everything is healthy and well. Now I know I had a bit of a longer break this time between seasons, but I’ve been working hard to bring you a wonderful line-up of guests right up until Christmas, so we’ll be very busy.
So, like many businesses and projects do, this podcast came about through my own frustration of consuming depressing climate change content. I wanted to seek out guests making real change, whether it be zero waste actions in the home to on the ground rangers protecting wildlife – change is change. Action is action. But consuming climate change content can sometimes make you feel like you’re not doing enough.
Sometimes there is a lot of shouting, and there’s hard to look at pictures and desperation and it’s all warranted. Climate change is very, very real. But I personally don’t cope very well with that pace and style of content. And when I asked around, not many of us do, and of course it can bring on feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and overwhelm.
Andrew is a clinical social worker, psychotherapist and co-director of North Seattle Therapy and Counselling. His practice focuses on the impact of climate change on mental health. He’s also the founder of climateandmind.org, which is a project dedicated to gathering and promoting resources related to climate psychology, the clinicians, the media and the public. He is a member of the Alliance of Climate Therapist Northwest and co facilitates two groups with Alexandra, a reading and discussion group on climate psychology, and a local support group focused on climate mental health.
Now, Alexandra moved from Australia to the Pacific Northwest in 2015. She is a practising psychotherapist and training psychoanalyst based in Seattle, the focus of her practice is supporting adults with depression and developmental trauma. She has a special interest in understanding the mental health impacts of ecological crisis, and the cultural and psychological roots of climate change.
So, I’m honoured that Andrew and Alexandra have joined me today to share their expertise and their own experiences in this space. As we look at ways to cope during this climate crisis. We cover daily habits, ways to reduce stress or guilt, and where to get support when you need it. And of course, hopefulness. I hope you enjoy the episode.
Andrew and Alexandra, welcome to PROTECT. Thank you for joining me today.
Alexandra: Thanks for having us, Angela.
Angela: Lovely to host you. Thank you for making the time. So, I’ve actually let the listeners know about your formal qualifications. But I wanted to ask if you could both introduce yourself and how you specifically got involved in the climate change space?
Andrew: Sure, well, I’m a therapist, a psychotherapist in Seattle, in the United States. And I sort of stumbled into this field. Before I started getting interested in it, my clients were bringing it up. And I found that I didn’t really know how to respond or help them with some of the grief and anxiety and depression that they were describing around climate change. So I decided to start researching it on my own. And it sort of went from there. The more I learned about it, the more I realised there was a need out there for people talking about this and working with people around these feelings.
Angela: And yourself Alexandra?
Alexandra: So I’m also a therapist. I’m from Australia originally but moved to the Pacific Northwest several years ago and have a psychotherapy practice. I think my involvement in this space began. Actually in response to the terrible bushfires in Australia a couple of years ago. I was having a really strong grief response to the loss of plant and animal life and felt very overwhelmed and stumbled across a workshop that actually Andrew was hosting at the University of Washington, and became, I guess in close contact with him and then through him met a group of therapists in the Pacific Northwest who are climate aware and tried to sort of integrate what they know into their practice, and then join the climate psychotherapy or psychology alliance of North America.
So it all sort of started through my own emotional response to what was happening and wanting to find a way to support others, I suppose, with the challenges that they were having to.
Angela: Well, you’ve made something good out of a terrible situation.
Alexandra: Trying to use our skills. Yes.
Angela: Yeah, it was a really tough time here. I remember.
Alexandra: It was.
Angela: Well, thank you for that. So I feel like climate change has gone from something we used to stress about to being very present in our everyday life. Now, in the media, particularly in Australia, we have a lot of articles – and they’re almost daily at the moment – words such as climate, anxiety and eco guilt are very interchangeable. So I wanted to ask you as therapists, what are the correct terms? And how do you define them?
Andrew: In terms of correct terms, I don’t think we’re going to come to a solid answer on that, because it’s a really new field. And I think the terminology is still being developed as we start paying attention to how people are responding to this new experience of global climate crisis. So, I like to help people identify their own feelings and the words that make the most sense to them. But I tend to lump things into broader categories of climate fear, which can refer to fear about the future, for oneself, for one’s loved ones, or fear for other people across the world who we don’t know, but we are aware of are struggling or going to be struggling. And then there’s climate grief, which can be about the anticipated loss that we see around us or witness in the face of extreme weather events.
So, within those categories, there’s lots of terms that can be used such as eco anxiety and depends how it manifests for each person. It’s a broad array of emotional responses.
Angela: So it’s very personalised, thank you.
Alexandra: I think to tuck on that. My clients tend to use words like distress or overwhelm, which are more general, but sort of very true to what they are feeling and experiencing sort of on the inside. But I think these terms can be thrown around in the media with not enough specificity. You know, I think it can help to have sort of definitions or working definitions and we all have our own understandings – perhaps even direct experiences of grief, trauma, guilt, and anxiety. So it’s a helpful place to start on unpacking those terms. And then from there, you can sort of tack on like the prefix eco, if the emotions apply to our responses to the climate crisis, specifically.
So one example I was thinking about was anxiety. We can think about as a set of emotional, cognitive or physiological responses that we have evolved, right to flee or fight threat in our environment. And then eco anxiety would be accurate to us when someone’s experiencing maybe the same set of symptoms. You know, heart racing, oxygen, moving to the muscles, a feeling of fear or worrying thoughts, in response to what we know is happening to Earth.
Angela: So no wrong terms, it’s very customised to how we’re feeling and physically responding. Thank you both. Okay, so what type of demand or rise Have you seen in therapy patients surrounding climate change? I’m interested if there’s been a connection with the pandemic, and if it is patients that are directly affected by climate challenges, younger people, what have you found?
Andrew: Where I see the most leaps in therapy patients reaching out around these types of issues or following extreme weather events, either locally or around the world. So like Alexander was describing witnessing the bushfires in Australia. Here in the whole West Coast of the United States have had wildfires and smoke seasons that have blanketed the city and I see more people reaching out when those events are happening.
I’ve seen an uptick, actually, since this summer, of people reaching out. And I think that has a lot to do with the discussion in the media, naming these feelings and naming this phenomenon of climate related distress. And as more people become aware of it as a thing, they say, “Oh, I think I can really relate to that.” And as we become aware of a name, like we were talking about, when we become aware, the name exists for a feeling or an experience we’re having, we can understand it better.
I haven’t been able to pin an increase on COVID specifically, but there’s been so many things going on throughout COVID in the world and in people’s lives, that the stress overall wouldn’t surprise me if the stress is from those two phenomenon kind of overlap. I don’t know what do you think, Alexandra?
Alexandra: I could see some overlap. When I’m thinking about this question. I guess I’m thinking about the sort of phenomena that we’re directly experiencing like during the time of COVID. And maybe because we’re all sort of locked away in our silos a little more. We do have more of an experience of distress because we have less of our supports available to us. Less of an opportunity to process it with other people. I think like Andrew, I typically see an increase during a wildfire season on the west coast.
But I think what I notice more than additional people reaching out during COVID time or during wildfire season is that for folks I’m already established with in my work, the content of our sessions is sort of turning increasingly towards distress about what they’re experiencing either firsthand, or about the various reports of things that they hear in the media. Because now we have a president who acknowledges the threat openly, it gives us permission, I think, to talk about it, and think about it a little more and feel about it, too. Which is a good thing. Right, uncomfortable. But, you know, I think part of this issue of inaction is practical, but it’s also psychological. So it’s good that we’re facing up to what’s happening.
Angela: Yeah, I guess people are feeling heard.
Alexandra: Yes, their fears and whatnot are sort of reflected in the media and even by our politicians if they’re functional.
Angela: Okay, so what are some of the common concerns you’ve found? Andrew, you mentioned earlier, people that live in climate sensitive areas, living through natural disasters, but what else is stressing us out with regards to the climate?
Andrew: In my experience, depending on the stage of life people are at and their particular environment and their particular family situation. But to a large extent, it’s the future and sustainability of our ecosystem, and the stability of our human race to continue to function.
If you’re a young person, 16 years old, you’re going to be generally more focused on what your future is going to look like and worried about not having the opportunities or not having the stability that you had expected, or that parents or adults had had sort of promised you.
People who are in sort of older stage of life might be thinking about having a family and what their kids are going to be experiencing. And people with kids are worried about what their kids are going to have to face and how they’re going to talk to them and prepare them for potentially a very different world in the future.
Angela: What about yourself, Alexandra.
Alexandra: I would agree with Andrew, it sort of dependent on, you know, developmental or life stages. I work in my practice, with generally people in their 30s and 40s. I don’t have children. So I think based on that population, and that age group, primarily, the concern I hear has to do with individual responsibility and power, you know, people have been talking about have been waking up to the reality that maybe corporations or people in positions of power have been maybe hiding the extent. Corporations, I’m thinking about – automotive, gas, oil, agricultural. Hiding the extent to which their industries, pollute the air and waterways degrade land and ecosystems. And we know that it’s been in their interest to maybe hide some of that truth or dodge accountability so that they can keep doing what they’re doing. And then I noticed that this knowledge can create a bit of a dilemma for individuals, because if we decide that it’s on these powerful industries and governments to regulate their activity and slow the crisis, we may feel less responsible, right, which is a relief. But it can mean that in our own lives, we feel as though, “Well, there’s nothing to be done, and we can’t influence the outcome, and it’s all out of our hands,” which can leave us feeling ineffective and powerless.
I think that’s the thing that a lot of my clients and people I encounter day to day are wrestling with, I would say.
Angela: Thank you for covering that I was actually going to ask if people were reacting to climate change policies or lack of leadership on climate change. So thank you. Now I had two human scenarios that I wanted to put to you today. Some of it’s from experience and a little bit of surveying from friends and family and people I know on social media, and I wanted to put them to you to see how their daily behaviours and their choices can be impacted by climate change, and what they might be able to do about it.
So, the first one is a mother. Now I’m a mother of two young children and know a lot of mothers who are working hard to minimise waste, plastic pollution, she’s composting, she’s recycling where possible. She purchases the sustainable version of “things”, but she’s in a lockdown. All of her shopping is done online, she regularly orders takeout for convenience, she uses disposable diapers and she’s feeling guilt trying to balance it all. How can we help her deal with those feelings? What are your thoughts?
Alexandra: I hear guilt raised a lot. I know your last question was about sort of what commonly comes up in practice and in conversations with friends and colleagues. And I think guilt and shame are very common. Well, you know, when I think about guilt, I sort of understand it to be a moral defence. I was reading last week a perspective from a psychoanalyst, which I really enjoyed about, about guilt.
I think he said something like we experience ourselves as morally bad, in order to open up the possibility of becoming morally good to regain good or positive relationships with humans, and even the other than human or natural world. So guilt is highly motivating, and I think can help us move towards being or doing better. And in order to resolve that guilt, about how we treat the nonhuman world, we might consider making more ethical choices, or engaging in less harmful behaviours that we feel, perhaps better line up with our ecological values, or how we want to live, or how we want to see ourselves.
The caveat there, I think, is that in our complex world, every decision feels like a trade-off. Like we are flooded with choices. And so aware of the consequences of our choices. This mother that you’re describing, as you say, could be you or it could be any of your friends. Sounds like she’s trying to balance her responsibility to her children, and her work and the planet. And maybe that decision, for example, to eat takeout and produce more plastic wins out every night over home cooking, because of convenience and time saving. So I think in this dilemma, I would encourage this woman to think about maybe possible creative solutions to this problem. What are the other ways she can feed herself and her kids in a time crunch? Could you speak to the owners of her favourite local restaurants about her concern, and see whether they’re open to using compostable containers, or getting takeout at places that only serve food in compostable containers, or allow customers to BYO, you know, Tupperware from home.
This comes to mind, I think one client who was saying she felt so guilty, she tries to do everything, right. But she felt really guilty about commuting to work using her car. This is pre COVID when everyone was sort of going to an office. But she arranged a carpool with some of her colleagues who lived close by. And I think this comes to mind as an example, because it demonstrates for me, our tendency to collapse these choices into good and bad. Right, like biking for her was good and driving was bad. But we could use our creative minds to think about solutions, maybe beyond that binary, that do a good enough job of meeting all of our needs, but aren’t perfect. But we could definitely say that they’re less harmful.
And then, you know, I think the last bit there is that there are going to be times when we have no other choice, but to do the certain behaviour that might be polluting, like travelling by plane or by car long distance to see family. You know, when there is no possible workaround available, and we feel guilty because it undermines the view that we want to hold ourselves like as “caring”. But I think in those instances, I’d remind people that there are so many positive choices they are making, and that no one is perfect at this. And perhaps the best we can do is commit to doing differently and the ways that we can and the places where we have maybe more choice or control.
Angela: And there is a lot more choice when you really open your mind to it.
Alexandra: I absolutely think so i think you know, through all of these difficult experiences and emotions, we’re feeling like we can get sort of rigid about our thinking. But just talking to people about different solutions can also be helpful. It doesn’t have to be with a therapist. People can be so creative when they put their minds to it.
Angela: Yep, definitely. Thank you, Alexandra. So my second scenario is a young professional, who is vegan, who practices zero waste, and they work at the airport. Now, our airport is a transport nightmare. You have to drive to a car park, and then they bus the employees out. The guilt starts from the commute. So this person loves their job, but part of their job is handing out masks to passengers. It’s also disposing of 1000’s of food containers. Plus they’ve got the added guilt of being part of the travel industry, but they love their job.
Alexandra: Right? I was thinking about some of those decisions that your listener is making. He loves his job. So, there’s really no choice about sort of giving up a job that you love. That doesn’t feel like much of a choice at all. But one thought I had listening to this was is it possible that in terms of transport that he could think about carpooling or something like that, or are there options to ride part of the way or use public transport? I don’t know. Andrew help me out. What are you thinking?
Andrew: Yeah, I’m scrambling to because I think when we face this kind of scenario, we kind of experienced the same feelings that this person is probably facing with how overwhelming you know, looking at the transportation industry and the travel industry and the emissions that are produced and thinking how overwhelming it is to know what to do in the face of that. And then the guilt of being associated with it can lead to giving up or burnout or feelings of being disempowered and hopeless.
So the first thing I would just focus on is looking not just to change the work situation, but to look outside of that. What comes to my mind is, you know, this person knows a lot about the travel industry, and works in the airport, so they could bring attention to the impact that that industry is having on climate change. That doesn’t mean they have to give up their job. And they could become an expert in that, at least locally or with their friends and family.
Alexandra, you’ve probably experienced this too, but it’s pretty common for clients to – okay, I experience this sometimes to think, Oh, I suddenly need to change my job, like I should become a climate scientist or maybe I should become an engineer so I can invent something…
Alexandra: Or a farmer, that was my latest.
Andrew: I often want to be a park ranger. These ideas besides being maybe a little fun to imagine, they also arise out of sort of a desperation, to do something that feels like the ideal in that moment. And once you get past the idea, it’s kind of overwhelming, and it’s impossible to achieve that ideal at least quickly. Or soon. And then you feel trapped.
And so I tend to suggest, you know, it’s okay to change careers, if that’s what it’s exciting to you. But within the career you’re in, or the work you have, how can you find avenues to make change or promote communication or understanding within that field. I see ways that this person could do that, and maybe make a much bigger difference, to awareness about climate change, than quitting their job and doing something else.
Alexandra: Yep, some real thoughtful advice from both of you, thank you. And I guess climate change is everyone’s business, there’s always something that can be done, wherever you are.
Andrew: Someone said this, and they don’t know who it was. But we don’t need everybody in the planet to do one thing that’s going to save the planet, we need so many different things to be done. There’s so many different levels of impact. It’s such a big problem, that there’s no shortage of jobs for artists, and journalists, and therapists and parents. And so we don’t have to do something necessarily super different. Often, we can find that thing that we can contribute with our expertise or with our passion, or with our excitement, that is not being done, or there’s a vacuum and I can feel that. And if everybody does that, there’s going to be a huge movement to address the crisis we’re in.
Alexandra: I was thinking to that if this individual is sort of feeling stuck about what to do, and how to be effective, given the constraints, like a great starting point, I think, as Andrew mentioned, was like, beginning to talk to people. And I am very confident that he won’t be feeling alone in his concern about how wasteful the industry is of a particular airport he works at is and I think those conversations, whether it’s with managers, or people sort of higher up, or just with peers that he works with. I don’t know they can lead to things.
Angela: Yep, he might find himself a new, more ethical role within the same industry.
Angela: Okay, so Alexandra, I’ll lean into the next question. So if we’re talking generally, what are some strategies or daily habits that we can use when we are feeling helpless, wherever we are in our lives? And I guess one thing we want to avoid is not acting at all or not speaking up at all.
Alexandra: So it comes to my mind when you ask this as the sort of theme or topic of perseverance. In researching this topic quite recently, I stumbled across some wisdom from activists who I think show their resilience and perseverance through fronting up over and over again, in their work and their work they describe as a sort of antidote to that helplessness that you’re talking about.
I also know that for people on the frontlines, it can feel like a Sisyphean effort, right, because it’s so relentless. And of course, there are days that they feel like giving up or walking away.
Tara Houska, who is a Couchiching First Nation activist, talks about the importance of values that she’s learned and internalised and practices day in day out. You know, she says that these values guide her work and I think some of the ones that she offers up off the top of my head are: humility, empathy, respect and balance, courage, recognition of our fragility, right and of our embeddedness in the natural world. And she talks about suffering as being a part of life. And I think this is such an important reminder to people, Angela that they’re suffering because the changes they’re seeing are truly devastating. So there’s a good reason to feel worked up in response to this.
On the other side of the coin, we know that apathy and denial are very maladaptive responses. But then for those of us who are worked up, and at the end of our rope, we need help in being with these emotions. Aside from I think the habits, or emotion regulation practices that help people manage overwhelm, whether that’s exercise, or mindfulness, or forest bathing or therapy, I would encourage people to make these values explicit, right, and practice them daily, like the ones Tara mentions, for example, or any others that might have deep resonance for people.
These can be a person’s guide to persisting or persevering when it feels hard. And they can also guide us and making choices when we feel lost. Maybe I’ll add as well that aside from this practice of remembering the sort of principles or values to live by, as perhaps a daily practice, I think the other way to make this work sustainable is by joining organisations or collectives or groups, because none of us can do the work of grieving and processing, what we’re seeing and feeling or the work of climate action alone.
Angela: I also wanted to ask as you’re talking about climate action, not everyone is designed for the same type of activism to speak up to protest to fight, but there is a space, it sounds like for everyone to contribute.
Alexandra: Yes, I totally agree with that. I think most of the clients I work with feel pretty overwhelmed by the activist space and think that that might be the only way for them to be effective. But I think, you know, the experience of collective action, whether it’s political, or whether it’s done within one’s local community, like tree planting, or clean-up days, you know, that sort of action individually, but I think in particular, collectively, can feel the sort of sense of individual effectiveness, and can also feel like an act of self-care.
Some days, we feel like what we do, the small things that we do are kind of a drop in the bucket. But I think when we sort of talk about these actions with other people, or even band together with others, to engage collectively, we see that many drops fill a bucket, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing as long as it feels sustainable and good. And it helps you work with or overcome that sort of feeling of an effectiveness or powerlessness.
Angela: Beautiful. Thank you, Alexandra. I think the messages that every action does count. So that leads me to my next question for Andrew. So the activist space is quite loud when I think about it now. And people like myself, I’ve got this podcast, I like to stay informed chat to people in the space, listeners are consuming this and other climate content, we all want to continue learning. But the information is rarely positive. And you can go down a rabbit hole very easily. So how can we continue to learn, to be informed, above all to make change and avoid that path of doom and gloom, which can be quite heavy on the mind. And even physically. I believe there are better ways to get this information rather than scrolling for hours on social media, and perhaps even limit the time that we do spend consuming.
Andrew: I’ve been down that rabbit hole myself, and I’ve had clients who have, and I think it’s a really good question to think about for everyone, generally speaking about our relationship with technology in the media, and specifically about these very stressful, upsetting issues that are not going to go away anytime soon. How do we want to relate to them in a way that’s useful and helpful in terms of keeping ourselves informed, but not beyond that, to the point of, you know, overwhelm.
What I’ve observed is that there’s a feeling we can get that we’re doing something just by learning more, consuming more, seeing more, checking more to see if there’s another bit of bad news that got added onto the top of the feed. And it feels useful in a certain way it feels like we’re acting what you maybe even feels like we’re activists because we’re angry. I’m not to say that activists are all angry, and there’s nothing wrong with anger either. There’s a lot to be angry about. But we get that kind of fuming sense of another bit of news, another tweet that just boils us over. And it feels meaningful. But there’s something kind of dead end about it. It’s like there’s never any kind of carry through except refresh, refresh.
So I would just encourage people, and I have to do this for myself to, to pause and think about how much is enough in terms of just refreshing and looking at feeds and tapping into that source. And what’s it doing for us. And I find that slowing down, spending less time on social media, or spending more sort of attuned and focused time on social media can be really helpful in improving our quality of life, our sense of peace, our sense of efficacy and you can replace that with a lot of other things, like talking to people, connecting with people about the experiences and emotions that we’re having around these things, reading long form articles, that really give us a deeper understanding of the science or of the experience that people are having across the world. The experience of people on the front lines, really getting a sense of their humanity and their human experience. Getting out in nature. And being back in touch with the things that we love, that are the reason that we’re grieving, what’s happening.
I don’t have a key to this. I think everybody’s it’s everybody’s personal kind of journey. But I really think that being mindful about consuming these resources and stopping when we start to feel like it’s too much and backing off from the screen is really, really important.
Angela: So really protecting our minds and our well-being.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, we’re sensitive to these things. And it affects us emotionally. And we need time to unwind and detach and feel what we’re feeling. So we’re not just flooded with more and more information.
Angela: Okay, so I also wanted to ask around this theory of stressing twice, or forecasting before something has happened. We mentioned earlier, people in climate sensitive areas, they may have had that stressful anticipation of something, and then post stress after the event. I live in an inner city suburb, I’m not directly affected but I do worry for bushfire season, I worry about possible drought. So how can we avoid all this additional stress before something has even happened?
Andrew: I’m of two minds here. Partly, I don’t want to suggest that we should not stress or avoid stressing, because it’s a stressful situation. And there’s a lot to be stressed about the environment is stressed our society and our civilization is stressing the planet and ourselves. So broadly speaking, if you’re feeling stressed, even if it’s anticipatory stress, it makes a lot of sense. And I just want to validate that we’ve had I don’t know, over the last four years here in the Pacific Northwest, I think, three smoke seasons, two big ones, and one lesser. So we don’t know what each summer is going to bring. But we started thinking about it in the beginning. And it is worrisome. And we have to plan around it. And that’s what we’re all going to have to do – start thinking about climate change and how it’s actually affecting us, not just as a distant in the future phenomenon.
That said, there’s healthy ways and less healthy ways to cope with stress. One thing I tried to remember is not to plan for unknown phenomena that I can’t control. So it’s one thing to be worried about the future worried what the summer is going to look like, or what the next 10 years are going to look like. But at a certain point, there’s nothing we can do about it directly. And it’s more important to focus on the bigger picture areas that we can control. And so finding actions and perspectives and directions, we can look that lead to actual steps.
You know, some of the actions we were talking about before, is a good way to redirect the stress away from something that’s outside of our control into something that is. And I would just add talking to people about our stress tends to help relieve it, finding others who share it and so we don’t feel so alone. Yeah, that’s what comes to my mind at the moment.
Angela: And I guess preparation in these circumstances can help relieve a bit of stress. It’s important.
Andrew: Yeah, adapting to a new weather pattern or system where we might be repeating itself in the future.
Angela: But even I guess physically like if you do live in these areas, you know, preparing for your livelihood, your property, your livestock, making sure you’ve got a plan to protect them. If something were to arise.
Andrew: Psychologists are often talking about stress. Like how can we think of stress as information that we use. I’m stressed, that means I’m attuned to something important that I should probably respond to. What we don’t want is to, you know, when stressors push us outside of our ability to tolerate them, that’s when we fall into panic mode, or depression or withdraw. And so being aware of that early on, and reaching out for help, when it’s happening is probably important to pay attention to.
Angela: Wonderful, thank you. So let’s talk about reaching out for help. Where do we go?
Andrew: I’m interested in climate therapy and climate aware therapy. But I also don’t think that therapy is the solution to people’s emotions and coping, partly because it’s inaccessible to a lot of people, partly because I think we have other supports around us that are equally strong and helpful. But that often involves reaching out and talking about our feelings, talking about how we’re experiencing these things. And since that’s not very common, yet, although it’s getting more common, it can feel challenging to bring up these kinds of emotions. But I really think it’s good to start close to home with family, neighbours, friends, people we feel safe with, and just sharing the feelings with people who are likely to empathise, that can be incredibly supportive.
Angela: Great. So starting at home, which we all can do.
Andrew: Yeah, I’ll give an example I used to – this was before COVID – I was dropping my kids off at the bus stop. I used to stand around with other parents thinking, sometimes I’m thinking they don’t seem to be aware of the ecological crisis at all, nobody’s talking about this. And of course, I wasn’t talking about it either at that stage, so I was just as silent as they were. But I felt alone in my neighbourhood among these parents of other kids of friends and my kids.
And one day I was like, you know, I’m just going to drop it into conversation, I’m not going to bring up depression or grief or anxiety, but I’m just going to mention climate change. And right away, a mum or a dad would chime in and say something about it. And I felt good. I felt like oh, someone else is paying attention to this, their experience might be different from mine. But it’s really helpful to know that there are people around us who are sharing in this struggle.
Angela: Always nice to get a fresh perspective as well. Alexandra?
Alexandra: Yeah, I’m so glad Angela that you’re asking about this, because relationships are so, you know, as Andrew has talked about, so important in helping us manage all of these difficult feelings that arise, I think, because we are social creatures, and we are dependent on each other.
Community is such a powerful resource. And I think, you know, maybe because of the pandemic, and we’re all sort of feeling especially isolated at the moment, we forget that. And I think because of the nature of this kind of distress, and because for a long time, it’s been glossed over or denied by people in positions of power, it can feel like a tricky thing to bring up right with people, especially who have sort of ideological differences from you. But I think starting at home is a really great idea. I have certain family members who I talked to about this, and then other family members who may be sort of less willing and able to examine it, so I avoid bringing it up with them. I’ve stopped bringing it up around the sort of like Christmas dinner table with all my extended family because I realise it can just end in conflict.
So I think identifying safe people and maybe like-minded people is a really good step. I speak with Andrew and other friends, some of my colleagues regularly in our own little informal support group. You know, we read things together, we brainstorm, we put together offerings or organise events. So I encourage people to reach out to their network, and they might be surprised to find that others care just as much as they do. And whether that leads to any kind of small or big action. I think the important part is bringing people together to process the emotions that they’re feeling. That’s so powerful.
Angela: Yeah, absolutely. And particularly after a time where we are so isolated, it’s time to step back out and have those conversations.
Alexandra: Absolutely we know that isolation exacerbates these symptoms. So whatever you can do to bridge the gap.
Angela: Wonderful. Thank you both for that advice. Now I like to close these podcast episodes with a question around hope. Are you hopeful for our climate future, from what you observe about other people’s actions, awareness, government contribution? Do you feel we can turn the tide here? I’m interested in your thoughts.
Andrew: Just to be honest, I think I am hopeful. I don’t exactly know why. I don’t know if I… I don’t have the data to back it up.
Angela: This is a non-data question.
Andrew: I have a client who’s absolutely not hopeful. And sometimes therapy turns into a little bit of a debate about this, like what it means. And I have a hard time expressing it because I don’t really know why. But I would describe it less as hope and more of curiosity about the unknown future ahead for us. One thing I try to remind myself is that I don’t know what’s going to happen. And I could list 10, big things that happened in the last 20 years, globally, politically, that I was sure you know, things were going to go the other way from presidential elections, to wars, to all kinds of other situations, and I was wrong. The world through wildcard that I couldn’t have predicted. And so I remind myself of that, when I start getting too sure of myself. And my view of the future gets narrower and narrower, that I don’t know, there’s a lot going on, that I’m not aware of, and that could pop up and surprise us all. And so it’s not exactly hope, but it’s openness to the unknown of the future. And when I think of it that way, I tend to get curious and excited about how we’re going to handle this as a species. This is the first huge global challenge that we’ve really encountered. And it’s on us to figure it out. And I really want to know what’s going to happen. And so that gives me I guess, you could say, give me some hope.
Angela: Curiosity is a good way to explain it. Thank you, Alexandra?
Alexandra: Yeah, I think Andrew, your version reminds me of, I think it was Rebecca Solnit who sort of studied like, very dark moments in human history and who is an environmentalist, and I think, Andrew, your definition of hope reminds me of what she talks about to this sort of middle ground between, everything will be great, you know that sunny optimism, and then that nothing will be okay, like the doomsday pessimism. And I think that sort of embrace of what we can’t know yet, that embrace of the unknown is a really nice alternative to the optimists, and then the sort of pessimists and I think I sit somewhere in the middle as well.
Probably, it depends on my mood. On the day, like sometimes I find myself sort of more open to the possibility of transformation and ore hopeful than other days during bushfire season. It feels really, really hard to be hopeful, but important not to lose sight of all of the amazing transformation that we’re seeing and all of the tireless work of activists for decades.
Angela: Yeah, it feels very current, but it’s not. People have been doing this for years
Alexandra: Absolutely, absolutely. So yeah, that gives me hope, I think in the darker times.
Angela: Two hopeful people on the podcast today. That’s good. Three including me. It was such a delight to have you on the podcast today. Andrew and Alexandra, thank you for being so generous with your time and information for listeners. I know this episode will be incredibly helpful for people, so thank you.
Andrew: Thank you for having us. It was great talking to you.
Alexandra: I feel Somali, and I’m so appreciative that Angela, you offer this platform and this resource. It’s been really great being in conversation with you.
Angela: You’re very welcome.
Wow, I know, a huge in depth episode, but I truly hope you enjoyed it and found it valuable. You can learn more about Andrew and climate change in mental health through his website climateandmind.org and Alexandra through her site, alexandrawoollacott.com. All links are in the show notes. As always, please reach out to me through Twitter or Instagram and let me know your thoughts on today’s episode. Thank you for listening and I look forward to chatting to you next week.