What Exactly Is Eco-Anxiety, and How Can You Cope with It?

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If you’re reading this, you know the drill. You’ve cried over climate change documentaries, spent sleepless nights lost in thought over the Earth’s demise, or felt actual grief over the state of the planet. The good news is you’re not alone. It’s natural and very common to be feeling anxious in the face of a melting planet, especially given that the news is constantly filled with apocalyptic stories of natural disasters and Greta Thunberg won’t stop yelling at us about why this is our fault. The feeling of responsibility and being let down by prior generations is permeating through Gen Z, and the result is eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety is defined as ‘heightened emotional, mental, or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system.’

Increasing media coverage of climate change is definitely a sign of progress, as with greater awareness comes greater action and pressure on governments and corporations. At the same time, doomscrolling and feeling unable to escape news of climate change could increase your anxiety and kill your motivation as a result. Realistically, the only solution to eco-anxiety is solving climate change itself, and this cannot be solved by our own efforts — it requires a global commitment. As a result, we feel powerless, while also feeling guilty for our less eco-friendly lifestyle practices like using plastic take-out containers or taking long showers. These feelings of powerlessness and shame go hand in hand and contribute to our eco-anxiety. So even though we can’t reverse climate change with metal straws and clean beauty alone, here are some proven ways to help you cope with eco-anxiety.

1

Remember That You're Not Alone

What you’re feeling is normal and it’s actually alarmingly common in this day and age. A 2020 poll from the American Psychological Association actually found that more than half of respondents were somewhat or extremely anxious about the effects of climate change on their own mental health. Entire fields of study have emerged as a result of the rise in eco-anxiety, and psychologists have recognized climate change as a growing threat to mental health. The fact that the APA has defined the term is in and of itself a sign that you’re not the only one going through it. It is valid to feel angry, scared, and sad about climate change.

eco-anxiety
Photo: Courtesy of @thesustainablefashionforum
2

Talk About It

Talking about your worries can help make them seem less overwhelming and take a weight off your shoulders, while isolating yourself could worsen your anxiety. Given that eco-anxiety is very common, there is surely someone in your life who is also struggling that you can share your feelings with, find common ground, and build a support system. Ask your friends if they can relate to how you feel and make it a point to check in with each other regularly, or join a support group together. 

eco-anxiety
Photo: Courtesy of @sasha_zharkovaa
3

Seek Help

According to Medical News Today, a growing number of psychologists and other mental health workers are receiving training on how to help detect and manage fears linked to the environment and climate. Climate change has become such a significant concern for mental health workers that an entire new field has emerged called ecopsychology, a branch that deals with people’s psychological relationships with the rest of nature and how this impacts their identity, wellbeing, and health. This means that if you are suffering from eco-anxiety, there are resources and trained professionals available to help you develop ways to deal with negative thought patterns and behaviors before they spiral.

 

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4

Educate Yourself (Cautiously)

Netflix is a great resource for environmental documentaries that won’t make you feel like we’re all doomed. Kiss the Ground is my personal favorite, which tells us how regenerative farming could actually get us out of this mess. Lucky for you, we also compiled this list of sustainability resources that will equip you for creating change, without scaring you. 

eco-anxiety
Photo: Courtesy of @clairerose
5

Connect with Nature

I recently heard a colleague say she feels the most at ease when she’s at the beach, because it’s the closest natural space we have in Dubai. I immediately felt a bond with her because I truly feel the most calm when I’m in nature. Connecting with nature is another way to cope with eco-anxiety. According to the American Heart Association, spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing. In fact, there is actually a new therapy approach called ecotherapy, which is the practice of being in nature to boost growth and healing. Go to the beach, go hiking, or spend a night camping in the desert. Despite what you may think about this region, it is more than just a desert. There are plenty of natural spaces to explore that will bring you peace. 

eco-anxiety
Photo: Courtesy of @mar_violinha
6

Have a Little Faith

You are allowed to be hopeful that we are not doomed. There is more awareness than ever on climate change, science is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and experts are devoting themselves to help us slow it down and even reverse it. If we can casually travel through space, we can save the Earth.

eco-anxiety
Photo: Courtesy of @outdoorspeopleforclimate
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