What Is Eco-Anxiety And How Can You Cope With It?
by Laura Barns
With multiple councils and governments across the globe declaring a climate emergency, the worsening environmental situation can often feel overwhelming.
It’s unsurprising that more people are growing seriously concerned over the lasting effects of humans on our planet, and it can lead to a feeling of helplessness. So much so, that experts in mental health and psychology are recognising an increasing wave of individuals struggling with what has been dubbed ‘eco-anxiety’.
What is eco-anxiety?
The American Psychological Association first defined eco-anxiety back in 2017 as ‘a chronic fear of environmental doom.’ In 2019, as climate protests, heatwaves and a torrent of natural disasters have pushed climate up the news agenda, eco-anxiety has erupted across the world. Mental health studies from Greenland to Australia reveal a swell of people reporting stress or depression about the climate and the future of our planet.
When it comes to talking about climate change concerns, and how psychology can help us understand human behaviour in the face of the crisis, eco-anxiety as a term can be a useful starting point.
‘Eco anxiety is not a mental health problem that needs to be fixed or cured, rather it is a healthy response to the situation we are facing. Anxiety, whilst uncomfortable, is at least an awareness of the reality of the situation that we face. And the good news (if I can call it that), is that once aware you can then at least do something about it. Or start to face the difficult, uncomfortable truths of what the future looks like.’ – Psychotherapist and lecturer Caroline Hickman for Friends of the Earth.
What causes eco-anxiety?
Anxiety about environmental issues can originate from experiencing, being at risk of, or having loved ones at risk of climate-related issues, such as extreme weather, including; hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wildfires.
Another big factor which contributes to eco-anxiety in individuals is overwhelming, frightening media coverage of environmental destruction, as evidence for humans’ negative impact on the environment increases.
However, the impacts of climate on mental health are not simply partnered with disasters alone. There are also significant mental health impacts from longer-term climate change – extreme weather events have sparked civil wars, protests, affected people’s homes, and destroyed wildlife habitats.
What can you do about eco-anxiety?
The most important thing to note about coping with eco-anxiety is that you’re not alone.
‘Actually feeling this anxiety is an emotionally mature state to be in, which shows that you are aware of the crisis that we are all facing. So, whilst it can be unpleasant, I would firstly say that this is a sign of willingness to face painful truths and facts, and that should be acknowledged and almost (though not quite as simple as this) be celebrated,’ writes Hickman.
Here are her tips for dealing with eco-anxiety, reframing it in a sense of ‘celebration’ of compassion, rather than a black hole of worry:
- Try to recognise your feelings as completely reasonable and necessary, rather than push them away. Taking time to acknowledge my feelings helps me maintain a healthy relationship with them, and often motivates my work and activism.
- Finding your place in a community can also be a huge help with feelings of despair and anxiety. There are a lot of support and activist groups you can join. The shared belonging and concern can be a great support, and working towards tangible solutions can give a much greater sense of control in overwhelming circumstances.
- If the anxiety is so severe that it causes you to be unable to function, or is so painful that it can feel unbearable, then you should consider seeking professional help.
Our tips for dealing with eco-anxiety
As a conscious company, all of our practices are designed to be as planet-kind as possible. Our Sustainability Partner, Ellie, shared her own personal tips experience and tips for dealing with overwhelming eco-anxiety when researching the best operational processes and products for our food.
Firstly, it’s important that we forgive ourselves for getting into this situation and for our consumption patterns of the last 40 years. Huge amounts of money and resources have gone into convincing us to consume in this way, purposefully playing to our insecurities and pairing success with materialism.
Secondly, remember that no single event or person can create change alone. Real change builds up, it’s messy, it’s slow, sometimes we take a step backwards and we can rarely appreciate or feel it happening in real-time.
At the moment it just feels like a lot of noise, some positive signals, some negative. But the general momentum is forward and any action you can add to help build that wave is productive and meaningful.
So change whatever you can manage, from making a meal with only the ingredients already in your fridge to turning your tv off standby, eating more plants and reading up on new developments or perspectives in the space.
Most importantly, allow yourself to feel empowered and impactful in doing these things, don’t give yourself a hard time if you slip up – we don't need a handful of people doing ‘sustainability’ perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.
By Laura Barns
Laura is our Copywriter, who is obsessed with the Hearty Roots Stew (and has been known to eat a double serve for lunch on more than one occasion). On her day off you’ll find her walking her puppy Ralph, stopping off at bookshops and cocktail bars along the way.