Understanding Eco-Anxiety And What To Do About It

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Your news feed can paint quite a dire picture of climate change. Distressing images of natural disasters, human grief, risks of extinction and the ever-changing predictions about “how much time we have left” on planet earth.

It can be naturally overwhelming and might even evoke persisting feelings of guilt, helplessness or frustration and even avoidance behaviours.

These fear-response feelings have been defined by researchers and environmentalists as “eco-anxiety” or “climate anxiety”. This concept recognises that mental health is an important element in discussions about climate change.

The American Psychological Association describes eco-anxiety as a “chronic fear of environmental doom”. It is also explored by environmental philosopher Professor Glenn Albrecht, who led research in “psychoterratic diseases” (earth related mental illness). Professor Albrecht also coined the term “solastagia” which he describes as “solace in your home environment”.

“You feel desolated about the loss of a loved home environment,” Professor Albrecht explains in his 2010 TED Talk. “You feel isolated and powerless in the face of forces that are creating this kind of destruction”

In recent years, I personally have observed similar behaviour in my own social circle. As my concerns over climate change grew, I would instigate discussions with family and friends and found many of them to be resistant. However, it wasn’t a resistance to act but rather general feelings of hopelessness and fear about the future and how they could contribute.

2020 alone is still reeling from last year’s climate effects of heatwaves, giant global bushfires, drought, typhoons, flooding and now we are in the midst of a health pandemic with COVID-19. Many of these leave an irrevocable impact on people and the planet.

Human activity is regularly documented as being directly responsible for climate warming. However, there are opportunities for us to simply adapt our behaviours and collectively support our environment whilst minimising our eco-anxiety.

Today, I’ve explored seven simple habits regularly recommended by environmental experts and advocates that may help curb such feelings of eco-anxiety.

1.Respect the natural environment

We need to stop looking at nature purely as a human resource and rather something to live in harmony with. You’re encouraged to explore nature regularly but leave it as you found it. Help keep these spaces clean and if you find litter on a nature or beach walk, pick it up and take it home. It’s about being conscious and supportive.

You can also work to contribute to nature’s growth whether you’re welcoming pollinators into your garden by planting herbs or blooms on your home balcony or have the space for a full-grown tree.

2. Spend two hours a week in nature

Biophilia is defined as an innate connection between humans and nature and research has found that two hours a week is the ideal amount of time to spend in nature.

The study looked at approximately 20,000 UK participants and reported that those that spent time in nature  reported increased health and well-being compared to those with no exposure. It also didn’t need to be in one block of time, the two hours can be spread across the week.

Nature also doesn’t just equate to beaches or woodlands, “green space” can be found in your backyard or local neighbourhood garden.

Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

3. Minimalist mindset

At heart you don’t need to identify as a “minimalist” to adopt the environmental benefits. A minimalist mindset is about not putting importance on possessions, understanding need vs. want and lowering your consumption and unnecessary purchasing of “things”.

When you do need to purchase something, look for quality and longevity. For clothing, consider natural materials such as organic cotton and linen rather than polyester which is constructed with plastic and can be largely non-biodegradable.

I also find it useful to look into the ethics of a company I purchase from. I look at their product materials, packaging, production processes and charitable/community contributions. I prefer supporting ethical organisations where I can.

4. Low impact lifestyle

Following on from a minimalist mindset is understanding your environmental footprint, which is essentially evaluating how our daily activities are affecting the world around us. There are hundreds of ways to lower your impact starting from how you manage your waste.

You can minimise waste by composting, recycling, upcycling and again making better purchasing decisions.

When grocery shopping, the reusable bag or coffee cup have become a standard now. You can go a little further and avoid buying processed items, products packaged in one-time-use plastic and purchase locally and organic where possible.

Choose climate solutions whenever you can. This includes green commuting – walking, cycling and public transport. When purchasing a personal vehicle, we are now evolving from a hybrid to full electric which could be a consideration.

Review your living operations such as heating, cooling and insulation. Look at ways to opt for greener solutions whether buying through clean energy companies, installing solar and water conservation. Small steps everyday will get us all there.

5. Diet 

A recent study (Richie & Roser, 2020) reported that “Food accounts for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions.” Food therefore lies at the heart of trying to tackle climate change, reducing water stress, pollution, restoring lands back to forests or grasslands, and protecting the world’s wildlife.”

They interestingly reported that “producing 100 grams of protein from peas emits just 0.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq). To get the same amount of protein from beef, emissions would be nearly 90 times higher, at 35 kgCO2eq.”

This is not to say you need to transition to a strict vegan diet but rather look to consume less animal products as an opportunity to contribute. An international campaign have introduced the concept of ‘Meatless Monday’s’ which is one method to reduce our animal consumption.

Climate Anxiety Food Choices AF
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

6. Climate Communities

2020 was a significant year for the Extinction Rebellion movement and raised the voices of environmental activists such as Greta Thunberg as we fight for a viable planet.

Reach out to your local councillors, your city and state politicians and voice your concerns on climate change. Advocate for change at your workplace or educational institution.

You might like a collective effort and want to join an in-person or online community, volunteer or donate to causes that support people affected by climate disasters or organisations who invest in ocean sustainability, reforestation or animal protection. Contribute to what you feel drawn to.

7. Speak to someone 

Sometimes the many ways to commit to responding to climate change can overwhelm no matter how positive they seem.

If you still feel anxious about climate change or your future, reach out to somebody who understands your concerns and talk about it. In Australia, Reachout.com offers some wonderful tips and professional resources.

Remember that anything you do is a contribution, no matter how small. It’s many acts no matter how simple and making efforts that will get us all there and try to feel inspired by what you can do vs. what you can’t do. Mother Nature has been taking care of herself for a long time but now it’s our turn to lend a helping hand.

And in the words of my favourite poet, Maya Angelou, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Disclaimer: This article was written during the COVID-19 pandemic in an Australian Stage 4 lockdown where outdoor exercise was limited and commuting was only for essential workers. 

Cover image: Photo by Nick Owuor on Unsplash

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