Eco-anxiety: what it is and how to manage it
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
The current state of environmental affairs isn’t exactly positive. With statistics being present almost daily about when they’ll be no fish in the ocean, when certain species will go extinct and when the environment will collapse completely - it’s no wonder people are experiencing anxiety directly related to this. You may not have even heard of eco-anxiety before, but it’s becoming a more recognised issue in society. This post will break down the basics of what those with eco-anxiety could be feeling and why.
What is it?
Eco-anxiety refers to the specific fears surrounding environmental damage or ecological disaster. With global warming on the rise, our planet is taking the brunt of it. An increase of natural disasters, loss of species and rubbish levels soaring have sent the earth into what feels like a rapid decline. This science combined with the connectivity of society through social media and the news means we are exposed to these negative notions like never before.
It comes as no surprise that people are feeling increasingly overwhelmed at the prospect of environmental damage and disaster. This type of anxiety was rarely seen 5 years ago but has exponentially increased, specifically in the teen age group. It’s not officially a recognised anxiety disorder in the DSM-5 but doesn’t mean to say what you’re feeling isn’t valid.
It’s easy to get caught up on the negatives when there seem to be so many in regards to the climate. It’s such a big issue that is so far out of our induvidual control. This leads to feelings of hopelessness, being overwhelmed or stressed about these environmental events.
Symptoms that present themselves in other anxieties may be present with eco-anxiety. This could include feeling nervous, not sleeping, sweating, not being able to think aside from the worry at hand and increased heart rate.
How to manage it?
With an issue so big and overwhelming it can be difficult to know where to start. By taking action, no matter how small, you may find some of the symptoms relieved. This could be taking part in a protest, joining an environmental group, watching your plastic intake or taking public transport when you can. Doing these small things can make you feel a part of the solution and more positive towards the whole situation.
Quality not quantity
You may have eco-anxiety without even being heavily involved in environmental movements. This could occur from subconsciously receiving negative information from the news, social media or peers. Be more aware of where you are receiving this anxiety-provoking information and try to reduce the time spent in these spaces.
If you are actively passionate about reducing climate change you are likely trying to educate and stay up to date with all the environmental issues. While It is important to stay up to date and informed about an issue you’re passionate about, try reducing the quantity your intaking. Consuming multiple sources about issues to do with the environment is overwhelming. By choosing one or two sources that provide good information you can reduce the quantity but still receive the information you need. Try not to watch the news too much and instead consume more positive stories.
Focus on the small wins. Find positive news relating to the environment, it might be the species that got saved from extinction, the beach clean up volunteers or a bill that got passed which puts the environment first. While yes, there is a lot of negative information out there because it’s happening now, it's good to have some positive things to focus on when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Grounding techniques focus on the immediate present. You can reconnect with nature by taking a walk at your local reserve or beach. Focus on what's directly in front of you, the tree, the sand, the rock - use all your senses to appreciate what is right there. Combine this with deep slow breathing. This will hopefully take your mind off feeling like the future is imploding.
Techniques that are used to help reduce anxiety include breathing techniques. As mentioned above, focusing on the length and deepness of your breaths, counting them will help too. You can use this at moments of intense worry which will hopefully take your mind off the stress.
Find things that reduce your stress such as a yoga class, meditation or some exercise. Combine these into your daily routine as much as you can.
If these feelings of anxiety are affecting your everyday life don’t be afraid to reach out for help. As eco-anxiety is relatively new it hasn't been talked about as much as other more common anxieties. This could make you feel as though it’s an invalid anxiety to have. Be assured it’s not and any therapist will be able to help you with management techniques. You might also like to read Kates article on balancing life.