In a world facing environmental challenges unprecedented in human history, it is no surprise that eco-anxiety – a pervasive worry about the current and future state of our planet – has become an increasingly prevalent mental health problem.
As people witness the devastating impacts of climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, a “heat apocalypse” city with dwindling water supplies, so I have some skin in the game.
But amidst the pessimistic predictions, there is hope. As a therapist and professor of clinical social work, I have seen firsthand how crippling eco-anxiety can be and am dedicated to finding solutions. Here are some evidence-based tips for tackling climate problems.
What is eco-anxiety?
Eco-anxiety is a broad term that includes fear about environmental issues such as pollution and toxic waste disposal, as well as climate-specific fears, such as increasing rates of extreme weather events and rising global warming. sea level.
Common symptoms of eco-anxiety include worry about future generations, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, feelings of frustration, and feelings of helplessness. These feelings can range from mild, fleeting worries to deep despair, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Does this sound like you or someone you know? There are a number of tools that can help people cope with these feelings, summarized by the acronym UPSTREAM.
Understanding and self-compassion
Be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone in these feelings.
Caring about the world you live in doesn’t make you an alarmist “crazy”. Indeed, a growing number of people around the world feel the same way, with two-thirds of Americans saying they are at least somewhat concerned about climate change in recent polls.
It makes sense that people feel nervous when basic needs like safety and shelter are threatened. Give yourself grace, because berating yourself for these very valid feelings will only make you feel worse.
Be part of the solution
It can be difficult to feel strong when environmental damage takes a toll on your mental health, but the escalating global crisis still requires urgent attention. Instead of burying your head in the sand, use that mental distress as a catalyst for action.
Individual efforts to reduce carbon footprints are important. Research shows that joining larger movements has the potential to also cause significant impacts, as well as the potential to buffer anxiety. Volunteer your unique passions, talents, and skills to support systemic changes that will benefit the planet and humanity.
When you feel anxious, use that energy as fuel for the fight. Harnessing eco-anxiety in this way can reduce feelings of helplessness.
Talk about yourself
The weight of the climate crisis is heavy enough as it is – don’t let your brain make you feel even worse.
When it comes to thinking about climate change, a realistic mindset places us in a “just right” Goldilocks psychological zone. Don’t numb your psychic wounds, but don’t overly catastrophize them.
As a therapist, I often help clients identify and reframe unhelpful thought patterns. For example, while it is true that there are many environmental problems to address, there is also positive news, so don’t underestimate it. Recognize and celebrate victories large and small.
Trauma: Process it so you can heal
The climate crisis has been conceptualized as a collective trauma, and many individuals are struggling with ecological pain resulting from climate impacts that have already occurred. Processing past traumas resulting from events such as weather disasters is a crucial step in improving your ability to deal with new experiences.
Even people who have not yet directly experienced significant climate impacts may exhibit signs of pre-traumatic stress, a clinical term for distress experienced in anticipation of a high-stress situation. A licensed mental health professional can help you process these emotions.
It’s no secret that having a strong social support network is a key ingredient to happiness. Surrounding yourself with compassionate, like-minded friends is also key to supporting your efforts in doing your part to make a difference.
Consider joining or starting a Climate Cafe or similar group to talk about climate concerns. Attend a 10-step climate pain meeting. Join a local environmental organization. Or just call a friend when you need a listening ear.
Get outdoors and enjoy nature.
Take a quiet walk in the woods and observe the nature around you – it’s a Japanese relaxation practice known as forest bathing. Spend time gardening. Exercise outdoors or spend time outdoors in a place that is relaxing and restorative for you.
Acts of self-care
Self-care is key when it comes to managing the emotional toll of eco-anxiety.
Engaging in self-care practices, such as getting adequate sleep, eating healthily, and staying entertained, helps us maintain a sense of balance in the face of overwhelming environmental concerns.
Remember what they teach you on airplanes: you should always put on your own oxygen mask before helping other passengers. Likewise, when we come from a place of well-being, we are better equipped to manage the stress of eco-anxiety and make a difference in this area.
Because eco-grief is past-focused and eco-anxiety is future-oriented, reconnecting to the present moment is a powerful way to combat both.
By cultivating mindfulness – a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment – people can become more attuned to their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in response to eco-anxiety stimuli. This increased self-awareness helps people recognize worries without becoming consumed by them.
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing, provide a calming and grounding effect, helping to reduce stress and alleviate feelings of helplessness. Additionally, mindfulness fosters a deeper connection with nature and an appreciation for the present moment, which can counteract the sense of hopelessness associated with future environmental uncertainties.
In the face of eco-anxiety, these strategies can build resilience, reminding everyone that they have the power to shape a more sustainable and hopeful future.
This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. The Conversation has a variety of fascinating free newsletters.
It was written by: Karen Magruder, University of Texas at Arlington.
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Karen Magruder does not work for, consult with, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has not disclosed any relevant affiliations beyond her academic appointment.