That hopeless feeling of despair you sometimes get just thinking about the extent of change that is required to save us from environmental ruin, and how little seems to be happening to improve all life on the planet… It’s a thing.
The overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to start to make the biggest or best difference, or feeling like your small individual actions won’t even have an impact in the face of the gigantic scale of the problems to overcome… You’re not the only one feeling that.
Even just reading that is enough to make one feel anxious. Never mind the constant barrage of bad news we are bombarded with each day.
An article from Psychology Today describes eco-anxiety as a “fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis. It’s an understandable reaction to ones growing awareness of climate change and the global problems that result from damage to the ecosystem. While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not include “eco-anxiety” as a specific diagnosis some people are expressing high levels of stress over climate change with symptoms including panic attacks, obsessive thinking, loss of appetite, and insomnia.”
This is quite different from the direct impacts of climate change on mental health. A report released by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica entitled Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance, explains how “climate change-induced severe weather and other natural disasters have the most immediate effects on mental health in the form of the trauma and shock due to personal injuries, loss of a loved one, damage to or loss of personal property or even the loss of livelihood. Terror, anger, shock and other intense negative emotions that can dominate people’s initial response may eventually subside, only to be replaced by post-traumatic stress disorder.”
How to cope
According to the article from Psychology Today, when it comes to dealing with these forms of ‘eco-anxiety’ or worrying about environmental crisis, ‘eco-therapy’ has been suggested as a countermeasure. This is put forward as a way to “address the question of how individual actions regarding the environment can make a difference and have ripple effects on the social realm, influencing the values, attitudes and behaviours of other people.”
Examples of eco-therapy include gardening, beach or nature clean-ups or spearheading a community project for recycling. Becoming involved with your local community at an environmental level helps.
Immersing oneself in nature, with its regenerative powers, has long been said to lift moods and ease stress, anxiety and depression.
More than just easing the anxiety by spending time in nature, people are increasingly starting to act to push for the change they believe is needed.
“What can I do?” was a resounding question at a Climate + Change: An honest talk about the global climate crisis event hosted by seedpod in Cape Town recently. People at the event, many of whom work in green industries and jobs aimed at improving the environment, admitted that they feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the lack of improvement.
An answer to the “what can I do?” question was: absolutely everything you can.
“Find your point of agency and leverage the fuck out of it,” said panelist and author Leonie Joubert.
If you are a writer, write about it. If you are an accountant, count the beans for an NGO fighting for change. If you are an engineer, make sure the systems you are creating will be relevant in the future. Raise the issues in the meetings you have. We are all consumers with the power to stop and think more consciously about who we give our money to. If you are a parent, teach your children how to recycle or take them on litter pickups. Join a climate strike and march to Parliament. Ask your financial adviser to put your retirement savings into non-fossil fuel aligned companies. Plant some spekboom or grow some of your own food.
“We do need hope, of course we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere,” said 16-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg in her TED Talk entitled The disarming case to act right now on climate change.
Open Source Green has started a discussion on the forum, about ‘what to do’ for people who are looking for ways to take action on climate change. Please contribute on the forum if you have ideas on how people can positively act for environmental improvement, and let’s find ways to lessen the eco-anxiety.