If you find it difficult to imagine your future because of the uncertainty about the world that climate change is bringing, you’re not alone. A study showed that, globally, 73% of people have a fair amount of worry about climate change. Young people are no exception. WIth sign boards at protests that read “We won’t die of old age, we will die of climate change” and memes that say “The pandemic ruined my 20s and climate change will ruin my 30s”, the mood is palpable.
Climate anxiety, a phenomenon that can explain this fear coupled with dread and desperation, is a state of anxiety about the impending global climate crisis and the seemingly inevitable environmental disasters. According to the American Psychological Society, climate change and the stress induced by it can cause trauma and shock, post-traumatic stress disorder, compounded stress, and strains on social relationships; along with depression and anxiety.
When asked how this eco-anxiety shows up for him, Jack Revell, 27, says, “Eco-anxiety is a sort of background hopelessness. It's like an amplified form of nihilism mixed with the grief and sadness of losing a loved one. In the back of your mind you know that probably all the places you love, all the animals, all the amazing, wonderful things on Earth are going to be completely and irreversibly destroyed or damaged by climate change.”
How can we cope with this grief, and lessen the stress and the eco-anxiety? Here are some tips that you may find useful.
1. Take Action
Taking action can be a form of reclaiming power at a personal level for some people. Taking positive action can also help decrease anxiety. For different people, taking action can refer to different things. For some, it may be making greener choices in terms of the food they consume or the products they buy, for others it may be engaging in activities to offset their carbon footprint.
Lola Mendez, 31, talking about the personal steps that she tries to take, says, “I try to reduce where I can, in order to save money and be more eco-friendly. I try to hone in on one thing at a time that I could do more sustainably. For instance, during the pandemic, I've started to make my own veggie broth from veggie scraps and I've started offsetting my carbons to be carbon neutral”.
2. Connect With The Community
When the battle is so uphill, it's easy to feel hopeless and alone. Finding community in this journey is essential to ensure social and emotional support, and to feel like we are cared for. Some ways to do this may be to get involved in local grassroots environmental organisations, arrange community plantation drives or clean up drives, participate in door-to-door advocacy, and more.
Connecting with like-minded folks may also help you find your footing. Those more experienced than you may be able to guide and mentor you towards a more sustainable lifestyle, and be there for you to ask advice from. On this, Mendez says, “I often reach out to my 'green' friends for advice and tips, or post on Twitter when I'm looking for ways I can make my lifestyle more green”. Jack Revell adds, “Seeing people care about the same things you do is also a good feeling.”
3. Reconnect With Nature
Truth be told, all this eco-anxiety can really lead to you having a pessimistic outlook toward the natural world. So, as cliche as it may sound, spending time with nature is always a great way to refresh your mind. Taking a walk in the nearby woods, or dipping your feet in the lake can be a great experience. Even just keeping flowers or plants in the house can be refreshing, for those in the city with less access to nature.
For many, including Revell, it can be something that brings hope and joy: “I'm not sure it [the anxiety] ever really goes away but being in natural places, being surrounded by bushland and seeing animals and plants happy and thriving, that does give me a bit of hope.”
While these are just some suggestions on what may help, it is important to remember to occasionally disconnect from the news, which can involve a lot of doom-scrolling and reading about environmental disasters. And if you feel like your anxiety is persistent, and interfering with your daily life, it may be time to consult a therapist. What are some unique steps you take to deal with eco-anxiety?
Written by Nayanika Guha