How to deal with the anxiety, panic, and doom from the news about climate change and the environment.
Are you feeling stressed out by the state of the planet and yet you can’t look away? If you feel overwhelm and hopeless about the future, you may be experiencing eco-anxiety.
Does this sound familiar? A bad news headline can trigger your emotions to tanking, spiraling into doom and gloom about our collective future. You can’t stand this doom spiral, but it feels irresponsible to tune everything out.
You feel helpless and frustrated.
There is a very real emotional toll that being aware and conscientious can have on you. As a world, we are facing climate change, persistent pollution, habitat destruction, etc. These problems can feel massive, complex, and in need of immediate attention.
This emotional distress can be called eco-anxiety. The feeling of persistent overwhelm, anxiety, guilt, and discomfort about the current and future state of the planet means that you are experiencing eco-anxiety. (Note, I am not a mental health practitioner, nor is “eco-anxiety” a recognized mental health condition at this time).
Other ways of describing it are climate change distress, eco-trauma, or existential crisis. Existential crisis is broader than eco-anxiety, but since the concern for the health of the planet is tied to our survival, these two emotional states have an overlap.
You feel the tension between:
- discomfort about the situation,
- guilt that you aren’t doing more,
- disappointment that other people aren’t doing more,
- and the persistent need to do something, before it’s too late.
Having been an environmentalist all my life, I’ve had my own personal ups and downs with how to keep believing and keep making an impact towards a goal that seems massive and multi-faceted. Most people don’t have enough disposable income to be able to devote our whole lives simply to saving the planet.
Rather than feel bad about what you don’t have and can’t achieve, let’s manage your eco-anxiety and notice what you do have. You can manage eco-anxiety and feel more optimistic about the future.
Five Practices to Address Eco-anxiety
Here are five ways that I have identified to alleviate the feelings of eco-anxiety. Read through and begin with whichever one feels the easiest to try today OR whichever one feels the most relevant and helpful to you.
1: Develop a deeper connection to the natural world where you live
Make a conscious effort to deepen your relationship to Mother Earth. I imagine that you probably already have ways that you play or relax out in the natural world. Perhaps you regularly go for a walk outside on the weekends, take a long bike road or boat ride or go to your allotment garden. Those are all wonderful.
Take a month to explore how you feel if you make an effort every day to engage with nature. It can be for as little as 5 minutes. You may want to explore my program Nourish your Soul with Nature that provides daily prompts and engagement to connect with your natural environment. Make an effort to engage with it as an observer and appreciator. Be out and about- outside, on your balcony, wherever and as an observer and a watcher. Let it be like a silent meditation or mindful moment with nature.
Recognize the resilience of nature. After Chernobyl, nature bounced back. In many forests, a forest fire is necessary for regeneration and new growth. Yes, extinction and land degradation is sad, but nature is so dedicated to finding a way and creating new solutions to life’s problems.
2: Increase your eco-literacy (without focusing on the problems)
Expand your naturalist knowledge. Enjoy diving deep into noticing your natural surroundings. Many of us know more logos by site, then plants or bird species. But wait, I know 10 bird species, you might say. Great, let’s see if we can expand that to another species too. This second practice doesn’t need to be time-consuming and you can easily incorporate into your time with the practice above. Start to take an effort to learn the names & characteristics of the living organisms where you live.
Do you know any of the native plants in your area? What birds live in your area? Are there native lizards, butterflies, or frogs? Many of us have become essentially illiterate to the living creatures around us, yet we can rattle off brands and logos without a moment’s hesitation. When we don’t name them or know these creatures, then they start to be forgotten. However, if we take an effort to be eco-literate and learn more about these creatures, observe them, learn about their characteristics, honor their unique way of expressing life, we value even more the unique creatures around us. This makes the work that we are doing- whatever level of environment & eco-conscious action we are taking, more relevant and more personal.
As you to this, be sure to monitor how much you focus on the problems that you are trying to solve. While it is very important to know the details of the issues you want to address, too much information can increase your sense of overwhelm.
3: Celebrate your current contributions
I want you to as much as possible celebrate and honor what you are doing as a contribution and what you are able to accomplish, and also to cease judgment criticism guilt or blame that you feel towards yourself for the things that you are “not doing.”
The care of the planet is going to take a dedication from most people and it is simply not sustainable for 10% of us to burn-out trying to do everything, while the majority does nothing (or what feels like nothing). Strive to find balance, happiness, and joy in your life- in whatever forms those come up.
Reflect on the last 6 months, year or 2 years. What changes and impacts have you made in your life or the lives of others to help the planet?
Are you living in a way that is more eco-friendly and sustainable than before? Do you strive to continue to do better and bring others on board? This is something to celebrate!!
Every great effort, every great achievement is not purely the end goal. You must be sure to be celebrating your small wins and small accomplishments as they come. You probably make many small choices that are habits that other people haven’t even considered adopting into their lives. I have a regular practice of writing down small wins throughout the week to keep front and center that every big goal is made up of many small actions.
Honor the choices you make every day that are kind to the planet.
4. Release the Guilt and Judgement
Many environmentalists reach a state of burnout because they work more hours than reasonable for their energy and health, simply because the issues they are working on seem too big to ignore. It is very common to try to shoulder the responsibility for fixing the issue yourself. Don’t let yourself play into this guilt trap.
The problem was caused by many people and often many factors. Yes, there are amazing people who have single-handedly made a name for themselves because of their massive environmental efforts (Greta Thunberg, Isra Hirsi, Jane Goodall, Bill McKibben, David Suziki, to name a few). If you are trying to become an eco-warrior celebrity, more power to you. If you are trying to shoulder society’s eco-burden on your own, please let other people help you.
This element of the dynamic is one that is quite complex and I know it is an oversimplification to ask you to stop laying on the guilt and start seeking help and support. However, it is simply a fact that you can’t save the planet all by yourself. And you can’t save the planet if you burn out because you don’t take care of your body, your mental health, and don’t take breaks.
- Take breaks and get support from others.
- Release the guilt.
- Trust that we will figure this out together.
- Talk to others who value the planet and who can be your advisors and emotional support.
5: Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude in your Daily Life
This tip overlaps with the last two tips, because how can you learn about and notice your natural surroundings if you don’t take the time to pause and be present. Mindfulness is a practice that is ongoing and even long-term practitioners of it have better days of being present than others. Here is one easy way to begin. Find a time when you can intentionally pause and notice with as many senses as possible your surroundings. It doesn’t have to last more than 1-2 minutes if that’s all you have the time or attention for.
I love that I can practice mindfulness when I’m playing with my kids or waiting at the bus stop for my daughter or straightening up my house. Some people like to have a certain time of the day when it is a ritual of mindfulness. For example, you could pour your morning cup of a warm drink and pause to look out the window or step out on your porch.
Take a sip of tea and look at the sky.
Can you spot any birds?
Are any clouds drifting by?
What can you notice that is different about your environment from yesterday?
Swallow the coffee and notice the air temperature.
Hold your mug and notice how your feet feel on the floor or tucked in the chair.
Managing your outlook regarding the future is a process. Dealing with eco-anxiety is not an overnight fix. You may choose to make this a regular part of your self-care practice.
If you want to support on alleviating eco-anxiety, check out Nourish your Soul with Nature Experience. It is a 3 week immersion in daily time outside connecting to your inner quiet voice and your outer natural world. We can also work together if you would like one-to-one support, reach out and schedule a free discovery call.