Eco-Anxiety: Mental Health Impacts In A Changing World

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Show Notes

Eco-Anxiety: Mental Health Impacts In A Changing World

I realize that there can be a lot of uncertainty and stress around the facts that I provide in some of these episodes, as well as what you’re seeing on other platforms. As we learn and observe more about the effects of climate change it can be overwhelming. We hear about rising sea levels, extreme weather events, wildfires, food insecurity, and extinction, and some people are the direct recipients of the effects of climate change in their everyday life. Within the past few decades terms like eco-anxiety, ecological stress, climate anxiety, and more have come into the picture.

As I mentioned we are observing and dealing with the effects of climate change on the planet, but a lot of the time the toll of climate change on our mental health isn’t dealt with. I think it’s important we talk about eco-anxiety and its effects on our mental health if we want to continue to dig deeper into sustainable education and make positive changes that last.

In this episode, I want to address eco-anxiety and provide you with actionable tips for coping with it so that you will feel empowered to take climate action instead of paralyzed with inaction or burnout.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist. Please seek help if you are suffering from anxiety or depression.

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What is Eco-Anxiety?

So what is eco-anxiety? Well, first it may be good to look at what anxiety is because they have the same common threads. Anxiety at its most basic form is fear or uneasiness about things with uncertain outcomes. It can also be a deeper psychological issue from repressed feelings.

Anxiety can reach the clinical level, but eco-anxiety is seen to be non-clinical on its own. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns – with over 40 million adults experiencing it in the United States.

Similar to anxiety, eco-anxiety is a compilation of different emotions such as anger, guilt, overwhelm, fear, or stress about what is happening to our planet, but can include enthusiasm (which we will address). Most experts connect eco-anxiety with key factors such as uncertainty, uncontrollability, and unpredictability.

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Eco-anxiety is closely linked to existential anxiety, which is the anxiety or worries about our existence due to life’s threats. So it makes sense right? We see that our climate is changing and we feel uncertain about our outcome because of unpredictable, but potentially annihilating threats to our world.

Work from the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science says that “eco-anxiety has strong elements of existential anxiety, and on the other hand it often manifests in “practical anxiety”, leading to problem-solving attitudes.” So this is where the feelings of hope, enthusiasm, and motivation come in.

Eco-Anxiety is complex

So as you might be able to guess, eco-anxiety is a complex issue and can range anywhere from mild concern for the planet to an issue that is paralyzing to some. So for instance, my eco-anxiety was something that when I started to learn and feel emotions of fear and guilt, I was motivated to take action and re-evaluate my priorities – a type of practical anxiety. Even still, this kind of practical anxiety can lead to burnout and overwhelm.

On the other end of the spectrum, eco-anxiety may cause people to suffer and even experience depression. Somewhere in the middle, there might be people who feel eco-anxiety and fall into denial because they don’t want to or can’t deal with the implications of climate change. These are the people who might feel like their actions are not worth it and repress those emotions that come with eco-anxiety, but this kind of thought process can lead to more anxiety down the road.

No matter where you might be on the eco-anxiety spectrum, I have compiled some recommendations to help you to cope with these feelings and harness the good out of learning more about climate change and how humans are affecting the planet.

Mindfulness and Breath Work

One of the first tips is to breathe! If you start to feel overwhelmed by it all, try taking a few long breaths in and out. Breathing can allow you to practice mindfulness, bringing you back to the present moment instead of building up anxiety about the unpredictability of the future. It brings you to the here and now so you can figure out what you need to do to move forward with a level head.

When we start to get worked up about the future, there is the potential for catastrophizing or believing that the worst will happen and that will have a spiral effect to more negative consequences down the road. When you are practicing mindfulness, it allows you to consciously let those feelings pass instead of letting them harbor and become a bigger issue. Mindfulness allows you to cope with those difficult feelings that come with eco-anxiety as we talked about earlier instead of shutting down.

Implement small changes

It builds resilience, which brings me to my next tip implementing one small action after another. The American Psychological Association says that “Connecting climate impacts to practical solutions encourages action while building emotional resiliency.”

If we feel like we have to take everything on at once, it can lead to eco-anxiety and potentially inaction. Even thinking of some of the damage that has already been done and not knowing how to move forward can be an issue. In this podcast, I try to make it easy with practical solutions that you can implement every day to make a change. Building up small practical changes to our routines or purchasing decisions allows us to feel in control of our individual influence and become part of the solution.

Improve your overall wellbeing

Another individual effort you can take towards relieving eco-anxiety is to build healthy routines (here are my tips!) and improve your overall well-being. Taking care of our bodies in a healthy way helps to take care of the planet in a healthy way. Have you ever wanted to do a task when you feel tired, run-down, or mentally drained? Yeah me neither.
Improving your wellbeing through creative practices, self-care, staying active, eating healthy, and sleeping well all contribute positively to your mental health. Good mental health is critical to coping with life’s problems and enjoying that beautiful life you’re living!

When we focus on our self-care and inner development, we can begin to cultivate spaces that bring us joy, comfort, and peace, which can create a safe space for dealing with the emotions that come from the changing world around us. It gives us the time and energy needed to reprioritize our values and behaviors and focus on connections with ourselves and others instead of material things that don’t bring joy.

Build a social network

Speaking about connections, you still should consider the collective forms of action that are needed to make a change. Joining a group or building a community of like-minded people can help with this. It can give you the sense that you are not alone in the fight for a better world. Having a group to talk to, whether that’s an organized group, your family, neighbors, or friends, can help you to explore your feelings instead of hiding them.

It can also help you to realize that there is power in numbers and presents the opportunity to collectively work together to produce a bigger impact that might not have been achievable at the individual level. Things like protesting, meeting with politicians, fundraising, creating education initiatives, and more.

But solely relying on action can lead to burnout, which is why I mentioned spending time on improving your mental health through self-care.

Spend time in nature

Another way to help relieve eco-anxiety that isn’t related to action is to spend time in nature. We’ve talked about how spending time in nature relates to mindfulness and bringing us to the present moment. It’s also shown to improve our mental health by reducing our fears, anxiety, and stress.

Being in nature can renew your sense of wonder and restore your trust in the earth to replenish itself if we give it the chance. Spending time in nature also connects us deeper to the world around us, which will help to reestablish your commitment to sustainable choices. If I’m ever feeling cruddy, I take at least a 10-minute walk or stand outside and I feel SO MUCH BETTER it’s insane.

Even visualizing or looking at pictures of nature can have the same effect on our mental health. So if you don’t have the opportunity to schedule time in nature try setting your phone lock screen to your favorite nature photo or watching a video of nature in the morning.

Cultivate hope

And finally, performing small actions that benefit yourself and others, staying in the present moment with mindfulness, building that strong social network, self-care, and spending time in nature are all ingredients to the recipe of hope. Your life has meaning. Your actions have meaning. And that is a hopeful thing! Having hope will reduce feelings of eco-anxiety and stress.
Hope drives us.
Hope is the ultimate motivator.
It’s the ultimate connector.
Hope that our vision for a better life and a better world is possible.

Create it and hold on to it.

Something to Grow On

This week on something to grow on I wanted to give you a few affirmations to repeat if you are feeling eco-anxiety and want to quickly pull yourself into the present moment. Affirmations help to overcome the negative thoughts that may cross our minds when dealing with the weight of the world and train our brains to see the confidence and power we have within.

Before you write off using affirmations, hear me out. Most of us use negative affirmations – affirmations that sound like “I’m not good enough.” “I’m never going to lose weight” “I’m always stressed.” We know how powerful negative affirmations can be for us, so why can’t the same apply to positive affirmations?

Choose one, or more, and repeat them to yourself often to see positive change. Are you ready? Ok.

I am happy about the future I am contributing to.
I am progressing in the right direction for my health and the health of the planet.
I am filled with hope for future generations.
I am equipped to deal with the constant changes around me.

 

I choose to be kind to myself and appreciate the hard work I’m doing.

I am grateful for the ability to make a difference in the world.

Whew, I feel relieved already! I want to say a big thank you for your time today and for your continued support of this show. I know that together we will change the world!

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Thank you to our listeners

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