How to Alleviate Eco-Anxiety
Whilst eco-anxiety is perfectly rational and isn’t a recognised medical condition, it can still get out of hand, and be harmful. If your eco-anxiety is getting out of hand, if it has negative impacts on your daily life, then try these actions, all of which are recommended by health and eco-psychology professionals.
1. Listen to your anxiety. Be patient with it. Don’t run from it. It’s not something to fear.
2. Remember that climate change and the state of the environment are mostly not results of your everyday actions, so don’t hold yourself personally responsible! Most of our actions are determined by the economic and social systems in which we live, many of which developed before climate change was considered a serious issue. For people to live in fully ecologically sustainable ways, the economic and social systems in which we live, need to change first. So, focus on ways to promote change in these bigger systems. The best way to do this is to participate in a local or national campaigning group, one which is calling for policy changes by government and big businesses. Or write a letter to your local government representative, to request her or him to advocate for change. These are the most direct pathways to a sustainable future.
3. Learn about the environment and climate change. A study in Australia recently showed, for example, that students of environmental sciences are less eco-anxious than students of other subjects. This is probably because people are generally more fearful of unfamiliar threats, than of threats which they understand.
4. If you haven’t done so already, decide which small actions you can regularly take in your daily life, to reduce your carbon and environmental footprints. True, this won’t make a great difference to the environment, as mentioned above. Bigger systems need to change. But we each need to feel that our lives and our ideals are partly in sync with each other. If we’re campaigning for government to regulate on reducing carbon emissions, but if we’re not trying to reduce carbon emissions in our own lives, then we may feel conflicted. So we each need to choose some lifestyle patterns which we believe in, like walking or cycling short journeys instead of taking the car, or eating less meat and dairy, then follow these improved patterns most of the time. You can also document whatever initiatives you’re taking, by adding them to the Youngupstart website!
5. Engage with nature. Studies have shown that regular time in green spaces or near rivers, lakes and sea, is good for physical and mental health. Green spaces absorb carbon dioxide, and in urban areas, green spaces are usually cooler. For example, there’s a Japanese therapy called Shinrin-Yoku which means forest-bathing – going out into the forest, breathing in the forest air and quietly enjoying nature. Do something like this every day if you can. If there’s no forest near you, then visit a public park. Go during the day when it is light and safe. Going barefoot, on grass or in water, is a very direct way to engage with nature. Lie on the grass, and look up at the sky. If nature is too far from your home, look for ways to engage with nature regularly in or around the home. This could include growing houseplants, keeping a pet, starting a compost pile, or finding ways to make your yard or garden more friendly to wildlife or birds.
6. Nurture the habit of maintaining and improving your own physical and mental health. You’re an integral part of the ecosystem, so looking after yourself is part of looking after the ecosystem! Good physical health can be promoted by taking care to eat well, exercise regularly and sleep well, but not excessively. Good mental health can be promoted by avoiding too much time on social media, engaging with nature (described above), spending time with other people or another person with whom you can have open conversations, and participating in activities which you find fun, uplifting, or inspiring. Beginning to look after one’s physical and mental health is exciting. Maintaining good habits over a longer period can be more challenging, so, joining or sharing these challenges with other people can help us maintain these good habits.