Do you find yourself agonizing over your choice of cleaning products? Do you beat yourself up every time you stray from your no plastic bag commitment, or worry about the future of the planet for your children so much you find it hard to sleep sometimes? If so, you could be suffering from eco-anxiety. Defined as “anxiety or worry about the ecological threats facing the earth”. Eco-anxiety is not a recognised mental illness, but is becoming a common reaction to the understanding about the issues we face from things like global warming, the health of our oceans, extinction of animals and other threats to the future of our planet.
A report from the American Psychological Association last year states that
“The health, economic, political, and environmental implications of climate change affect all of us. The tolls on our mental health are far reaching. They induce stress, depression, and anxiety; strain social and community relationships; and have been linked to increases in aggression, violence, and crime. Children and communities with few resources to deal with the impacts of climate change are those most impacted”.
In fact it is quite rational to experience worry, sadness, fear and anxiety about our future and the health of our planet. We have hard evidence that tells us we are in trouble. We have opportunities to make a difference but power, politics and greed, often get in the way. It can feel extremely hopeless and it is easy to feel powerless. However there are lots of things you can do to reduce your own anxiety and make a difference and there are plenty of people and organisations doing amazing things – every step DOES help. If you already live with some level of anxiety like I do, it is easy for things to snowball. Dealing with any type of anxiety takes time and regular practices to soothe and calm your mind and body.
Here are some tips to help you reduce eco-anixety
Take the small steps
Rather than focus on ALL of the things that need doing, work out what you can do and then stick with that as much as possible. For example you might choose non toxic cleaning products, recycled toilet paper, stop using single use plastics, give up the plastic bags and takeaway coffee cups, add solar panels to your home and harvest rain water. Taking these small steps may seem insignificant, but they are not. And it can reduce your eco-anxiety to know you ARE making a difference.
There are literally hundreds of organisations who are fighting against damage to our planet. Look for some that resonate with you such as an animal protection groups, ocean crusaders, or conservation organisations. Find the things that excite and interest you and then roll up your sleeves and get involved. There are also particular challenges, special days and months such as the Garage Sale Trail, Earth Hour, Tree Planting Days and Clean Up Australia. Here is a great list of what is on across the year.
Sometimes you can feel like other people are tired of you banging on about the environment. In some circles you can talk no end about it, but in others, you may see people turn away when you mention the latest thing you are worried about, or getting involved in, or when you take your own containers to the supermarket. Don’t let these people get you down, or stop you. It is important that those of us who have had an environmental awakening, stick to our guns and trust ourselves. It does not matter what other people say or think – trust yourself and keep moving forward with your beliefs and passions. It is quite possible that eventually, these other people will have their own eco awakening too, and education is key.
Look at the beauty of the planet
It is not all doom and gloom. There are often good news stories about the planet and the things we are all doing. One of the best antidotes to any anxiety is to get out into nature, experience it all. Walk amongst the trees, climb a mountain, swim in the sea. Listen to the birds, feel the wind on your skin, pick some flowers and experience their scent in your home. Get out in the garden often. Hug a tree – it really does ground you and remind you of all the beauty that still exists all around us. See it through the eyes of a child – they really have an all senses, open hearted approach to the world.
Connect with community
Connecting with like minded people raises your spirits. It brings inspiration and guides you in your life. There are lots of community groups and networks you can get involved with. Find workshops and events, or simply connect with others via social media and blogs like ours – head to our Facebook group where you can connect with lots of other people who feel the same way you do about the planet. You can share tips and ideas, learn and connect.
Practicing mindfulness in your entire life, being present, being more conscious of life as it happens, can seem contradictory if you are used to concentrating more on the future and trying to achieve your goals (I know I tend to do this if I do not try to be mindful) but learning and using mindfulness in your life, even in small ways, will actually help you achieve your goals and enjoy life more at the same time. In fact, you’re more productive when you’re mindful and it can help in reducing eco-anxiety too.
Most importantly, being present is really the only way to enjoy life to the fullest. It means you are noticing each moment, no matter what this moment brings. It is not about being “happy” all the time, as painful emotions are part of life, but when we are mindful we can stop buying into thoughts that are unhelpful and that can lead us down the garden path. Jealousy, resentment, anger and fear, can all raise their heads if we get caught up in social media for example, rather than staying firmly grounded in our own lives and all they bring to us. Take lots of breaks from social media and being connected to all the noise out there.
It takes practice, but it really changes your life. Focus on the light fall and the way the colours play, the sounds you can hear in your daily movements, the smells drifting into your nostrils, the feel of the floor under your feet, the knife in your hand as you cut the vegetables. At the traffic lights, look around and notice 5 things you can see, hear, smell, taste or touch.
It is easy to be caught up in your thoughts about the past and future and worry about it all. You definitely need time to both reflect and dream, but worrying and staying stuck in your head too much, deprives you of the present moment, and the beauty of life. Step away, look outwards and experience this wonderful, complicated world.
**Update from 2018 post