Do you suffer with eco anxiety? And is there anything we can do to lessen its negative effects?
The start of this year has been a rollercoaster – on both an emotional level, and a nationwide level around the climate crisis too. It’s why I’d like to open up a little bit about my own mental wellbeing, and discuss the latest emerging issue around environmentalism: eco anxiety.
What is eco anxiety?
Eco anxiety is “a psychological disorder afflicting individuals who worry about the environmental crisis”.
In a report by the American Psychological Association, the causes of eco anxiety included:
- Watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold
- Worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations
This is something I’ve felt for a while now – and it definitely stepped up during the Extinction Rebellion protests. While their campaigning led to the declaration of climate emergency across the UK, the majority of the media coverage was negative. Tabloids and TV shows alike criticised them and singled out individual protestors and their hypocritical actions (such as someone drinking from a disposable plastic water bottle, a group travelling to London, or Emma Thompson flying in an airplane).
It made me worry the climate crisis was being ignored, and that we’re as people are being manipulated to expect perfection in individuals, while corporations go about business as usual.
What are the effects?
The eco anxiety phenomenon is similar to the mental strain felt by survivors of natural disasters. Symptoms include:
- Feelings of loss
- Sense of dread
Ironically, eco anxiety can also lead to climate change denial. Psychology Today links a disassociation from the negative impact we’re all causing on the environment to creating an “amnesia barrier in order to alleviate mental distress”.
I’ve found that my eco anxiety tends to start when I’m flooded with lots of negative information about how we (the human race) is ruining our environment. That, coupled with lots of sporadic work, hectic work schedules, and no time to write or express myself leaves me feeling even more helpless. Cue, burnout.
How to reduce your eco anxiety
Eco anxiety is a small branch on the anxiety tree, and of course, our mental wellbeing is affected by so many different things at any one time.
I believe it’s important to invest in mental health, and since I started working for myself, this has been even more true. I’m fortunate to work with Calmer, an organisation working to nurture good mental health in entrepreneurs, solo workers, business owners, and teams.
They have enabled me to work on my mental wellbeing. When it comes to eco anxiety, you can lessen its negative effects by:
- Speaking up about how you feel
- Focusing on what you can control
- Researching the products you buy, and the brands you buy from
- Calculating your carbon emissions and working on reducing them
- Raising awareness of eco-friendly practices at your place of work
- Contacting your local MP to raise your concerns around your local environment
- Boycotting businesses with particularly bad ecological practices
- Joining community groups, such as Extinction Rebellion, Friends of the Earth, or Ethical Influencers
- Booking 1-to-1 sessions with a mental health trainer
- Speaking to your doctor
Last month, I worked nine days in a row, and found myself having moments of panic, anxiety, and burnout. This was during the XR protests, and Fashion Revolution Week too. I was feeling distraught at how hard I was working and for little pay. I felt like my work wasn’t helping anyone – and that we are all doomed to ignorance and a lack of time.
I had the wobble most business owners experience at some point: wouldn’t it be easier if I just found a job?
That, coupled with a feeling of helplessness to save our environment, was not a good headspace to be in.
Thankfully, I’ve taken some time out, reconnected with myself, nature, and my work. I feel empowered running my own businesses – Curiously Conscious and Ethical Influencers. My mission is still the same: to create and support independent media that prioritises actions to lessen climate change and look after our planet.
If you’d like to hear more about my story dealing with stress, burnout, and finding positivity, I’ll be speaking at Calmer’s Burnout: How To Prevent It & Reignite Your Passions panel talk next week. It would be great to see you there!
And remember: in our quest to protect the planet, we need lots of people reducing their impact imperfectly. No-one can help everyone, but everyone can help someone!
Disclaimer: This blog post is based upon research. I am not a mental health practitioner or health professional. Please speak to your doctor if you require clinical support.
Really great article Besma. I can relate to many of the feelings and emotions you are going through…I had never realised that I was suffering from eco anxiety. It turns out I might be. Thank you x
Thanks Khandiz – I find it quite therapeutic writing out my thoughts, and especially when I feel like I have no control over things, like our climate. In our small ways we can all help, and it eases the anxiety to focus on that more than anything x