Global temperatures and sea levels are not the only things rising in the recent years.
Eco-anxiety also is.
A term coined by Glenn A. Albrecht in his book ‘Earth Emotions’, Exo-Anxiety indicates a form of mental or existential distress caused by environmental change. Albrecht talks about how climate change and its media coverage influence our emotional relationship with Mother Earth, causing, in those who feel eco-anxiety, depression and an unbearable feeling of powerlessness.
Eco-anxiety is felt by people that want to feel in symbiosis with Nature again and live their life without causing any further distress to the environment around them.
But because this task seems so utterly impossible, they feel stuck against a catastrophic clock that’s ticking too fast.
How do you recognise Eco-Anxiety and how do you know if you are suffering from it?
If talks of ice melting give you small panic attacks, if images of deforestation make you cry, if you wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares of pandas’ full extinction or if not finding a plastic free alternative send you into a mental tailspin then you’re likely to be suffering from Eco-anxiety.
And you are not alone: 2018 Yale University report suggested that about 21 per cent of people in the US say they are “very worried” about global warming.
It’s a perfectly normal reaction to the catastrophic news and movies we see every day, painting hyperreal pictures of what the future has in store for us if we won’t change our course of action, and to the disproportionate eco-guilt tactics used by some eco-friendly warriors.
The ability then to be 24/7 connected to any party of the World and listen to so many environmental concerns occurring simultaneously makes it easy to get lost in the big picture and feel utterly helpless.
When climate change was still to become a trendy topic, these images and strong words were needed to awake us all from our complacent plastic-full lethargy and create a sense of urgency, maybe even panic, if we were not changing our habits.
But the prolonged use of the above has created a paradoxical situation where we don’t do anything to make the situation better because it seems we are too far deep into this environmental self-destruction to actually be able to avoid it.
I like to compare this feeling to how you feel when you know that you should really start exercising because your health is at risk but you have been a bit lazy for so long that even the smallest first step seem too big and impossible to achieve. And you give up even before starting.
In we want to look at the medical symptoms, therapists who treat eco-anxiety say their patients report loss of appetite, irritability, panic attacks, insomnia, nightmares, some feeling grief, while others experience helplessness or depression.
To treat this relatively new form of anxiety, a new branch of psychology, named ecopsychology, has developed.
Ecopsychology’s aim is to help re-establishing the emotional connection between humans and nature and offer suggestions to promote sustainability and reduce the patient’s carbon-footprint.
The founders of this technique (Roszak, Gomes and Kanner) believe that our diminishing engagement with nature, despite our natural instinct to emotionally connect with it, brings negative effect into our life and impact on our social interactions. Therefore, anxiety will only be solved by reconnecting with nature and healing our emotional discord.
What an eco-psychologist might suggest his patients is to get outside, take a walk in a park or even carry around a small rock or piece of tree bark to be constantly reminded of our roots.
The second step will be to start taking small actions towards a more eco-sustainable life. This could be:
- connecting with a local environmental group to find like-minded people.
- Making a donation to a charity devoted to an environmental cause.
- Changing your diet, more in alignment with your values.
- Giving your home an energy health check (such as energy saving lightbulbs, proper insulation etc.)
- Protecting and nurturing local green spaces, which can absorb CO2, cool urban areas and provide valuable habitats for wildlife.
What’s important is that wherever you start, you take a small step and the one that is more convenient to you so to not feel overwhelmed by the process.
And more than anything, never feel guilty or ashamed if your life is not perfectly waste free!
You can still do a lot even if you are not 100% vegan or don’t have 5 years of waste in a jar: whatever small little thing you do is a start and, together, we are the Solution.
If you would like to find an eco-therapist near you to get a little more help, you can visit the Ecopsychology website. And if you don’t want a professional advice but simply feel you need to chat, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be more than happy to share with you how we got started (PS: we also wrote a blog about it!).