27 Feb What to do if you’re struggling with Eco-Anxiety
The UK is currently experiencing the warmest winter on record, with temperatures exceeding 20C, 10 degrees above average.
That’s a stark contrast to this time last year when we were battling “the beast from the east”, a snow storm that caused travel delays, power cuts and the lowest temperatures recorded since 1986.
Many people are enjoying this warmer weather, and whilst the sun might be giving us a much needed dopamine boost, for the more eco-conscious amongst us, it’s also creating a sense of unease perfectly summed up by Sarah Andersen’s illustration:
If you’re feeling this Eco-Anxiety, you’re not alone – it’s a real thing.
According to psychologist Honey Langcaster-James, Eco-Anxiety is “the state of heightened anxiety some people experience relating to climate change”.
A 2017 report, “”Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance”, released by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica, found that climate change can have a serious impact on our mental health.
Firstly, there’s the impact of natural disasters, which have the most immediate effects on mental health for people that experience them.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 1 in 6 people living in areas affected met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD and 49% developed anxiety or depression.
This is understandable when you consider the trauma and shock of personal injuries, loss of life, damage to property and loss of livelihood that these disasters can cause.
For those living in areas affected, or even areas at risk, the stress is understandable, especially as climate change is causing more extreme weather events and heightening the risk of these disasters.
However, the report also found that climate change is having mental health impacts at a community level, particularly for indigenous communities and those that depend on the natural environment, who can experience disproportionate mental health impacts.
With the growing awareness around climate change and our impact on the environment, psychology experts are starting to explore the connection with our mental health in more detail, and there’s a growing number of people expressing fear and uncertainty.
The good news is, research has found that people with strong social connections and networks, both online and offline, tend to have lower levels of psychological distress during and in the wake of natural disaster.
Social connections can strengthen our resilience so finding a supportive community of like-minded people can help ease your eco-anxiety.
If you’re feeling powerless or overwhelmed, it can be tempting to switch off the news and try to ignore the reports, but psychologists say it’s important to confront the issue of climate change directly and stay informed.
Getting involved and understanding the facts can help you make a plan for how to cope and reduce feelings of stress.
If you live in an area where there is a high possibility of climate disaster, such as flooding, wildfire or extreme weather, it’s better to be informed about what could happen.
Angela Terry recommended this as a positive step for those at risk of flood damage when I interviewed her about climate change on the Ethical Hour podcast, and psychologists recommend getting as informed as possible to reduce feelings of uncertainty and powerlessness.
Even if you think you can do little to change this global problem, small changes in your carbon footprint can have a big impact on the environment and your mental health.
Joining together with others to address the issue, campaign for change and reduce your footprint where you can feels more positive and empowering than avoiding the topic all together.
We’ve seen this in recent weeks as young people around the world have been protesting, engaging in ‘Climate Strikes’ to pressure governments and industry to take action before it’s too late.
If you find yourself worrying about climate change all the time, reach out to like-minded communities for support and look for where you can take small but positive actions.
One person alone can’t stop an environmental crisis, but that shouldn’t leave us feeling resigned to climate change doom.
We can’t force others to take action either – but we can find the people who are committed to turning it around and work together to strengthen our voice for change and reduce our collective carbon footprint.
This proactive mindset will help keep the eco-anxiety at bay and help the planet too.
What do you do when you feel worried about climate change?