How to cope with eco-anxiety

February 6, 2023

By Period Dignity Team

COP27 is well underway. Whilst the climate crisis is receiving more of the media attention it deserves, the sudden increase in news coverage about the state of our planet can be understandably distressing.

Anxiety about the climate and ecological crises is real and widespread. Whilst eco-anxiety is not recognised as a mental health disorder by itself, many of the symptoms can overlap with those seen in other conditions such as anxiety and depression. It can trigger feelings of guilt, hopelessness, loss and grief, as well as physical symptoms like insomnia and exhaustion, taking a toll on daily life.

What to do about eco-anxiety?

Accept the feelings
Begin by accepting your emotions, they are real and valid. Climate change is a huge issue, probably the biggest our planet has ever faced, so it’s normal to feel worried, upset or angry. Whilst we might not be able to fully overcome eco-anxiety, there are ways we can help manage it and find hope.

Know you are not alone
Eco-anxiety can feel very lonely, but you are far from alone. Talk to your friends or family. You will probably find that people around you share many of the same fears. In fact, a recent survey found that 75% of British adults worry about climate change, and younger generations are especially susceptible to feeling very anxious. The good news is that those who are worried are also more likely to make lifestyle changes in response, meaning that anxiety can be a motivator for action.

Take small steps
Focus on the little everyday things you can do to take action. Whether it’s choosing secondhand, reducing food waste, or avoiding single-use plastics, these things might seem small but they soon add up to make a difference.

You don’t need to take an all or nothing approach. Often there is pressure to be ‘eco-perfect’ which is not a realistic or accessible goal for most people. Plus we’ll likely have a much greater impact through millions of people doing their bit imperfectly, rather than a few doing things perfectly.

Find your community
Whilst government and industry have the most influence for climate action, citizen and community action can also have a meaningful impact. Join a local climate group or online space to find people to take collective action with. Not only will this help you to build a support network and connect with others who are experiencing eco-anxiety, but it will likely present opportunities to have a greater impact.

Remember who’s responsible
Although looking after the planet is everyone’s responsibility, it’s worth remembering that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions. What’s more, it was the oil industry who coined the term ‘carbon footprint’, as part of a marketing plan to shift the blame on to individuals.

The world’s biggest polluters have used decades of propaganda to make us feel guilty for the chaos they caused, whilst continuing to extract, exploit and rake in record profits. These companies need to be held accountable – as individuals we can sign petitions, engage with our representatives and attend protests. The climate crisis is not your fault!

Spend time in nature
Spending time in nature is one of the most restorative and anxiety-relieving activities. During the Covid pandemic, there was a reported increase in people valuing nature as important for their wellbeing. Research shows this has numerous physical and mental health benefits from lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of cardiovascular illness to improving mood and increasing self-esteem.

Engage with positive news
With a seemingly never-ending stream of gloomy news, it’s easy to see how this can take a toll on our mental health. Perhaps it’s time to switch to something more positive. Numerous newspapers, magazines and social media accounts have sprung up in recent years to do just that, taking a look at what’s going right in the world.

For environment-specific positive content, check out Bloom in Doom Magazine, Jessica Kleczka and The Eco News. For general happy content, take a look at The Happy Newspaper, Positive News Magazine and The Happy Broadcast. Unfollow accounts which are triggering and try giving accounts like these a follow instead.

Final thoughts

Harnessing eco-anxiety as a motivation for action could be the key for hope. Those feelings of anger and upset can be used to inspire change. Although we can’t do everything ourselves (and we shouldn’t try to), we can take small steps and collective action which do make a difference.

If you are struggling to cope with eco-anxiety or other mental health issues, please seek professional help from your GP.

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