Tips for Dealing with Eco Anxiety
July 23, 2019 | Kathryn Kellogg
Last Updated on November 2, 2022
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. More and more people have started developing environmental anxiety and have a real fear of change about the events taking place.
Here’s an article The Guardian wrote about the climate breakdown.
A lot of this stems 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 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 sense of urgency without panicking.
I repeat, you can feel a sense of urgency WITHOUT panicking. It’s normal to have some anxiety about climate change, but you shouldn’t panic.
anxiety about the future climate issues
When your body starts panicking, your brain is working in overdrive, 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 from your environmental anxiety about climate change is yourself, and not only is it bad for both your physical and mental health it can hold you back from creating positive change.
Eco anxiety can, of course, hit at any time, but it’s triggered by the news and other social media outlets. 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? Fear of change? Anxiety about the future?
Because, how can world leaders read things like this and NOT want to act or experience their own eco anxiety?
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 scarier than just accepting the fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen.
I have plenty of my own anxiety about the future. 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
anxiety about the future
The list goes on and on about my eco anxiety, 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. coping with eco anxiety:
In the same way that you needed to accept that bad things might happen, you also need to accept that good things might happen, too.
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, so it makes sense that many of us have anxiety about the future.
good things to think about
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 and 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.
fight the fear of change with these ideas:
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. What will it look like?
How do we live in harmony? How has general consciousness changed?
When you get struck with a wave of anxiety about climate change or 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 by anxiety about climate change, 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.
RELATED: How to Deal with Judgmental Friends and Family
ACTION ITEM: Remember that you’re not alone in your fear of change, eco anxiety, or anxiety about the future.
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 eco anxiety, 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 of 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.
Eat a plant-based diet
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)
If you found this article helpful, I would love it if you would give it a share!
View this post on Instagram
It’s #GoodNewsFriday and I’ve got some good news!! Kroger the largest grocery chain in the U.S. has voluntarily banned all plastic bags in their stores. ⠀ ⠀ This will eliminate 6 BILLION BAGS EVERY YEAR!⠀ ⠀ Kroger operates 2,779 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia, serving almost 9 million people daily through two dozen different grocery chains.⠀ ⠀ Kroger has also announced a partnership with Loop so you might have a bunch more bulk options coming to a grocery store near you! Isn’t this so exciting!? Tag a friend who could use some good news. ❤️⠀ #GoingZeroWaste #GZWGoodNews⠀
Thank you so much!
I would LOVE to see a post on how to encourage people to be more eco friendly who dont particularly care about the environment / feel like being eco friendly is too much of a hassle. Awesome post btw!
National Geographic- has a tv show (2016?) about “climate grief” called “Bill Nye’s Global meltdown”. It stars Bill Nye and Arnold Schwarzenegger going through the different stages of climate grief. Ending in hope and what we all can do… I found it entertaining, and inspiring.
Thanks for this post! My eco anxiety was getting to a point where I was almost paralyzed and very depressed by it. I would go on vacation and I couldn’t enjoy myself because I was just in my head with my anxiety, absent from the beautiful surroundings of my vacation. I started meditating using the headspace app (of course any kind of meditation will help) and after a couple of weeks I felt a big change. I began to be more present in the moment and not always thinking about “what-if” or “in the future,” but also not ignoring the headlines. I also began to sleep better and my body relaxed more.
THANK YOU… I started feeling this way last month and didn’t know how to work past the negativity. Just knowing that other people feel this way helps.
Wow, thank you so much! When trying to be more eco-friendly in the past, I have always allowed myself to be derailed by thinking that my actions are not even going to be a drop in the bucket and that all the effort I put in was useless. But your reference to the serenity prayer really helped me make the connection that there are going to be things I cannot change, but I can use what resources I have to make a difference in my own life; that’s all most people can do, right? I really appreciate the grace with which you approach environmental issues. Thank you for sharing your content. <3
THIS IS SUPER HELPFUL! In my case my support is ZERO because my family rejects even my opinion about it in general (though, I love them) and discounts why i feel so strongly for something. This made me realize that i need to make more efforts to stay in contact with my zerowaste people and volunteer friends. Thank you so much!