Eco-anxiety is nothing new, but the term has recently been coined to explain the anxiety, grief, and despair that’s often felt about the state of the environment/climate change or climate breakdown.
There’s a growing, new vocabulary for how we address the climate as climate change feels passive and adaptable whereas breakdown or emergency sound more alarming and in need of action. Here’s an article The Guardian wrote about it.
A lot of this is stemming from recent protests like Extinction Rebellion and the School Strike for Climate being led by Greta Thunberg. You might remember a speech Thunberg made to parliament saying, “I want you to panic.”
I think “panicking” in the context of talking to world leaders who are a refusing and/or dragging their feet on climate change policies is apt.
However, you, yourself, I do NOT want you to panic. You can feel a since of urgency without panicking. I repeat, you can feel a since of urgency WITHOUT panicking.
When your body starts panicking your brain is working in over drive, your "fight-or-flight" response is triggered, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, your heart rate shoots up, and you can experience shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness etc.
Now, do you think in that state of panic you can make rational decisions? Effectively create change? Or just generally function at that level of intensity?
No, probably not. In fact, the only person you’re hurting by panicking is yourself, and not only is it bad for both your physical and mental health it can hold you back from creating change.
Eco-anxiety can of course, hit at anytime, but it’s triggered by the news. Bad news. You know the news I’m talking about.
Unless you’re a monster, how can you not be affected by those headlines? What are you feeling right now? Sad? Scared? Worried? Upset? Because, how can world leaders read things like this and NOT want to act?
It’s infuriating right? Like HELLO. Humans need the earth to survive. Our species depends on these resources too!
This might be the hardest step in fighting climate change. There’s something about humans especially impassioned ones that are so against duality. But, if you’re going to keep eco-anxiety at bay you HAVE to learn to live with both the positive and negative emotions and realize that not everything is simple cut-and-dry.
You can make peace with something without condoning. You can also accept an outcome while fighting tooth and nail against it.
Practicing acceptance does NOT mean that I’m going to sit back and watch it happen. There’s a difference and I hope that you can understand the distinction.
But, there’s something about accepting “the very worse thing” that might happen that’s absolutely freeing. It’s like being afraid of it in its abstract is almost more scary than just accepting the fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Tons of irrational ideas float through my head all the time like:
I will lose everything and be homeless.
The stock market will crash and we'll be living like Fallout
An Earthquake will hit, my house will collapse and it will kill my family
The list goes on and on, but when I get these thoughts I just accept them and it really helps break my spiral. I just say, if that happens I accept it. And, it's almost like flipping a magic switch in my brain.
This is just like the serenity prayer that is often recited, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
ACTION ITEM: When you start to feel very overwhelmed by impending climate doom practice acceptance without complacency.
If the serenity prayer helps you, say that. If not, think of another similar mantra you can write and meditate on that involves both acceptance and action.
2. get a new view:
In the same way that you needed to accept that bad things might happen, you also need to accept that good things might happen. But, that’s much more difficult to do because we have the dystopian future in spades.
Everywhere you turn, there’s post-apocalyptic media from books, TV, movies. In fact, if you think about the future, you probably see something dusty, dry, and kinda steampunky, right?
We’ve got that vision on lock. You know what we don’t have? We don’t have a vision of the future that’s just awesome!
I mean, what if we switched to a completely renewable energy grid? What if every roof and building were green spaces? What if these green space grew organic food that could supply the community? What if we started working with nature rather than against her?
We have to get a beautiful, clear picture of what we’re fighting for. If we’re just fighting for our lives that’s not very interesting. Paint a picture, a beautiful picture of a life that people want.
When people hear survival, they think surviving like barely surviving living in a cave and no one wants to fight for that. You know what they want to hear, they want to hear about thriving show them utopia. Show them how their life will drastically improve.
This is also a key principle for talking to people about saving the planet who don’t care about the planet. Let me know if a blog post on this interests you.
When you have this very clear big picture of how amazing things could be it becomes so much easier to talk to people. It also becomes so much easier to take action because you have a clear vision of what you’re fighting for.
ACTION ITEM: Take a few moments to journal or just day dream about how wonderful the future could be. Describe in detail how awesome the future could look. How does it look?
How do we live in harmony? How has general consciousness changed? When you get struck with a wave of fear, re-read this entry or go back to that place in your mind palace to remind yourself of what you’re fighting for.
3. find a support system:
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s also easy to feel isolated, and one of the best ways to combat this loneliness is to find a group of like minded people.
Check out this post if you’re looking for tips on finding a local like minded eco-friendly community.
When we’re triggered everything feels very Us VS Them. It makes us turn on our closest friends and family - you know the ones that we don’t don’t consider to be on our “eco level” and wonder, “If they’re not on board, how is anything ever going to improve!?”
This can bring out a lot of negative traits like bitterness and being judgmental which can cause you to lash out at friends, family and unsuspecting strangers.
ACTION ITEM: Remember that you’re not alone. There are TONS of people, groups, and organizations that are all working towards change.
Plug in and connect with a friend who cares about the environment. If you don’t feel like you have anyone who understands be sure to check out my blog post on finding a local community and consider joining my private facebook group and make a new friend!
4. get to work:
After you’ve decompressed from the initial feelings of overwhelm, it’s time to get to work. The only way to truly work through these feelings is to make changes! This doesn’t mean that you need to make every change overnight and it certainly doesn’t mean that you take on the sole responsibility for the fate of the world.
Anxiety can also stem from feeling like you HAVE to be perfect and that you can NEVER make a mistake because if you do then the world will collapse and it will be all your fault.
That over course, is not true. Yes, it sounds like gross hyperbole when typed out, but somehow when you’re spiraling your thoughts go there.
We need individuals making changes, but we also need businesses and policy too. My recommendation is to start making simple changes around your home. Once you feel like you have a grasp on that, it’s time to get your community involved.
Then once you have your local community involved then pursue things, as a group, in policy and contacting businesses - there’s power in numbers!
I have blog posts to help you with all of those things, but this one The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide might be particularly helpful if you want to get a road map of what it looks like as you go from just starting to accomplished activist.
ACTION ITEM: Start making changes in your own life and in your community.
5. seek out the positive:
And, lastly make sure that you’re seeking out the positive. One of the things I do to maintain positivity is intentionally seek out positive news. I make sure that I’m following accounts on social media that have a positive and uplifting take on what’s happening.
When all you hear is bad news because let’s be honest, it’s SO much easier to find the negative than it is the positive, it’s pretty demotivating. When you hear the good news, you just feel empowered. It makes you feel like what you’re doing is making a difference.
And, just so that we’re clear - what you’re doing is ABSOLUTELY making difference! Here are a few places that are great for finding good news.
ACTION ITEM: Follow a few accounts that inspire you with good news! I’ve rounded up a few that I like to follow if you need some inspiration.
Going Zero Waste - eh-oh! Every Friday is #GoodNewsFriday!
Sustainability Saturday - a newsletter I write to round up five positive environmental news articles every week (scroll ALL the way down to the bottom)
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