‘Eco-anxiety’ & Some Tips on How to Manage It
Research by: Sophie Campbell, Written by: Jacqueline Omdara
Eco-anxiety is the distress caused by climate change and it can present itself in various ways. Eco-anxiety is a very real and prevalent emotion many of us feel. It presents itself as a broad range of negative emotions including grief, hopelessness, frustration, anger, fear for future generations, numbness, depression, guilt, and irritability (Coffey et al., 2021). This may lead to panic attacks, nausea, and sleeplessness for some however, it is different for everyone. There are 3 categories of ecological grief which are grief for physical ecological losses, grief for loss of environmental knowledge, and grief for future losses (Cunsolo et al., 2020). Some important terms to note are:
o Ecological grief: grief for current and future loss of species in natural world
o Eco-angst: feeling of despair at fragile condition of planet)
o Environmental distress: response to lived experience of desolation of home
Nevertheless, positive emotions such as hope, empowerment, and connection when collective action is taken. Eco-anger can provide motivation to engage individuals to take action personally as well as collectively (Stanley et al., 2021).
Who is Vulnerable to Eco-anxiety?
A survey with 2000 individuals from the ages 8 to 16 years old’s showed that 73% were worried about the planet and 41% did not trust adults to tackle the challenges presented by climate change. Overall, children are more vulnerable to mental health effects as they have stronger responses to extreme weather events (Coffey et al., 2021). This is unfortunately similar to professionals working in climate science as many experience burnout, anxiety, grief, and depression which causes some to leave the field. Those with a closer connection to the natural world in a personal and/or cultural way are also more vulnerable to eco-anxiety as well as those who have experienced changes due to climate change (i.e., displacement, homelessness, injury from weather events, etc.). In another survey, 10,000 individuals ages 16 to 25 years of age from 10 different countries were asked about their thoughts and feelings about climate change and their governments response to issues. The results revealed that 60% were very or extremely worried about climate change, >50% were sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty, and >45% said feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning (Hickman et al., 2021). Lastly, majority felt more betrayal than reassurance when considering the government’s response which is strongly correlated with anxiety (Hickman et al., 2021).
Nonetheless, there are actions that can be taken to regulate eco-anxiety in individuals. It is important to recognize that grief and anxiety are reasonable and functional responses to climate-related loss, but we do need an urgent response from the health system, researchers, educators, and policy makers (Cunsolo et al., 2020). Below are some ways to take action in eco-anxiety.
o Increased training for health professionals on climate change & mental health
o Enhanced clinical assessments and support for those suffering from eco-anxiety and eco-grief
o Individual and group therapy strategies
o Increased effort toward solutions (ex. active commuting, forest bathing, community-based volunteering)
o Focus on family-oriented response to a shared external threat
o Use a healthy equity approach (adequate mental healthcare infrastructure for all, culturally-relevant care, familiarity of the practitioner with climate-related anxiety and grief) — those with acute eco-grief and anxiety often have less access to mental health resources.
Those who are vulnerable or experiencing eco-anxiety should know that they are not alone and there are many resources to support them. Below we have provided some tips for handling and managing eco-anxiety.
o Take action: talk to others about environmental practices, volunteer with environmental group, make sustainable choices (waste reduction, meat consumption reduction)
o Get educated: obtain accurate & trustworthy information about environment to empower communities and get prepared for potential crises
o Focus on resiliency: improve your ability to overcome stress and trauma by fostering caring, trusting relationships, not viewing problems as unsolvable, making achievable goals, practicing self-care and positive self-image, avoiding isolation
o Try to stay optimistic: try to reframe things in a positive way to break negative thinking cycles associated with chronic anxiety
o Foster a strong connection with nature: find a positive personal connection with the environment to counteract anxiety
o Get active: especially for commuting instead of driving
o Know when to disengage; avoid overwhelming yourself with information daily, especially if it is repetitive, biased, or untrustworthy
o See a doctor: if your anxiety does not respond to the previous suggestions, talk to a professional with training on eco-anxiety and eco-grief (ex. Climate Psychology Alliance)
If you are interested in learning more about eco-anxiety check out the websites provided below or check out “A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety” by Sarah Jaquette Ray.