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In a world increasingly confronting the harsh realities of climate change, a new form of anxiety is capturing the collective consciousness: Eco-anxiety. This burgeoning phenomenon, a direct response to the escalating environmental crisis, is impacting an ever-growing number of people globally. The American Psychological Association defines eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” and its emergence indicates the severity and immediacy of the issues we face. According to a 2023 study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, an astounding 70% of Americans feel worried about climate change, with nearly a quarter experiencing intense feelings of eco-anxiety. Around the world, these figures are mirroring similar upward trends. This burgeoning emotional response to environmental degradation is as critical as it is complex. So, how can we understand and navigate this collective emotional state of unrest? This article will shed light on the scope and significance of eco-anxiety, helping readers navigate this new emotional landscape while acknowledging the stark environmental realities that give rise to it.

What is Eco-Anxiety?

Eco-anxiety, or climate anxiety, is a form of psychological distress related to fears and anxieties about the planet’s future due to the ongoing environmental and climate crisis. It’s an emotional response to the threats of climate change, including natural disasters, loss of ecosystems, rising sea levels, and associated predictions of societal collapse.

It involves grief, loss, and fear about climate change’s existing and anticipated impacts on human societies and non-human species. Eco-anxiety is also linked to feelings of guilt or helplessness about the individual and collective inability to prevent or slow down environmental degradation, leading to a constant worry about the future, for oneself, future generations, and the planet.

This is a relatively new term and area of study within the field of psychology, with research ongoing into its causes, manifestations, and potential treatments. The American Psychological Association recognizes eco-anxiety and advocates for further research into its effects on mental health and strategies to help individuals and communities cope with this emerging psychological phenomenon.

Photo by Uday Mittal

How do we know we suffer from Eco-Anxiety?

In our rapidly changing world, the psychological impact of environmental issues is becoming increasingly significant, leading to a condition known as eco-anxiety. This form of anxiety relates explicitly to the fears and concerns about the planet’s future due to ongoing environmental and climate crises. If you’ve been feeling overwhelming worry or distress about the environment, you may wonder if you’re experiencing eco-anxiety. Here are a few questions to help you understand and identify if you’re dealing with this new, globally-emergent psychological condition.

Are you constantly worried about the state of the environment?

If you find yourself frequently consumed by concerns about climate change, biodiversity loss, or pollution, this could be a sign of eco-anxiety. Unlike standard anxieties, which typically focus on personal or immediate family issues, eco-anxiety extends to global or future concerns. These worries can become overwhelming and interfere with daily life, causing significant distress and discomfort. It’s not just about being aware of environmental issues—it’s when this awareness becomes a source of persistent stress and fear.

Do you feel helpless or hopeless about the environmental situation?

Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness when considering the state of the planet is another symptom of eco-anxiety. You may sense that the problems are too large and complex to be solved or that efforts to combat environmental damage are insufficient. These feelings can lead to a state of paralysis, making you feel like no action you take will make a difference, which can be both disheartening and distressing.

Are you experiencing grief or loss related to the environment?

If you find yourself mourning the loss of animal species, ecosystems, or even the predicted future state of the Earth, this could indicate eco-anxiety. This might take the form of sadness or grief over specific instances of environmental destruction that you’ve seen or read about or a more generalized sense of loss related to global environmental changes.

Does the news about climate change cause you intense distress?

Another potential sign of eco-anxiety is if news or discussions about climate change cause you to feel intense distress, worry, or fear. While it’s normal to be concerned about these issues if your reaction is extreme or causing you significant emotional distress, this could indicate that you’re experiencing eco-anxiety.

Are you changing your behaviours due to your environmental fears?

A final clue that you might be dealing with eco-anxiety is if your environmental worries lead you to change your behaviour. This might include obsessive recycling, significantly altering your diet, or extreme lifestyle changes to reduce your carbon footprint. While taking action in response to environmental concerns is optimistic, when these behaviours stem from intense fear or anxiety, they could be a sign of eco-anxiety.

These signs are not exhaustive, and eco-anxiety can manifest differently in different people. If you recognize these feelings in yourself and they’re causing you distress, it could be worth talking to a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support. It’s important to remember that feeling concerned for the environment is normal and healthy. Still, when it becomes a constant worry and distress, it becomes eco-anxiety.

Photo by Jan Kopřiva

How to manage Eco-Anxiety?

Recognizing and managing eco-anxiety is an essential part of maintaining mental well-being in our rapidly changing climate. Here are some strategies that can help:

1. Stay Informed, but Balance Your Consumption

It’s essential to stay informed about environmental issues, but it’s equally important to ensure that it doesn’t become overwhelming. Set boundaries for consuming environmental news, perhaps designating specific times in your day for it. Use reliable sources to get your information and avoid alarmist or unverified content. For instance, you could decide to check environmental news once a day for 30 minutes, and then turn your focus to other tasks or activities.

2. Take Action

Taking action, no matter how small, can help you regain a sense of control and reduce feelings of helplessness. This could be anything from recycling, composting, reducing your consumption, to using public transportation or cycling instead of driving. You might also consider advocating for environmental causes, participating in local clean-up events, or volunteering with environmental organizations. For example, joining a local community garden can help you directly contribute to environmental sustainability, while also providing a sense of community and purpose.

3. Connect with Others

Share your feelings about eco-anxiety with family, friends, or support groups. Expressing your thoughts and fears can provide emotional relief and build resilience. Moreover, joining local or online groups dedicated to environmental action can make you feel less alone and more empowered. For instance, there are numerous online forums where people share their experiences and coping strategies about dealing with eco-anxiety.

Tips to manage eco-anxiety
Photo by Helena Lopes

4. Practice Mindfulness and Self-care

Mindfulness practices, such as yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can help manage the symptoms of anxiety. Engage in activities that you enjoy and that relax you, whether it’s reading, walking in nature, or listening to music. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep, is also crucial in managing anxiety.

5. Seek Professional Help

If your feelings of eco-anxiety become overwhelming or begin to interfere with your daily life, it may be beneficial to seek help from a mental health professional. Therapists can provide strategies to cope with this anxiety and help you manage your feelings in a productive way. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common approach to deal with different forms of anxiety and can be effective in addressing eco-anxiety too.

Remember, it’s normal to feel concerned about the state of our planet. However, using these strategies to manage your eco-anxiety can help turn those feelings of worry into positive action, promoting both mental well-being and environmental sustainability.

To Conclude,
In the face of increasing environmental crises, the rise of eco-anxiety — a state of distress and worry about the future of the planet — is an emerging phenomenon affecting more and more individuals worldwide. Symptoms can range from persistent concerns about climate change to feelings of helplessness, grief over environmental losses, intense distress, and behavioral changes. Recognizing these signs is the first step towards acknowledging and addressing eco-anxiety.

Managing eco-anxiety, however, is not an insurmountable task. Balancing your consumption of environmental news, taking tangible actions to reduce your ecological footprint, connecting with others who share your concerns, practicing mindfulness and self-care, and seeking professional help when needed, are all effective strategies to alleviate eco-anxiety and transform concern into constructive action.

While the challenges we face are significant, it’s important to hold onto hope. There are countless examples of environmental progress and resilience, from the growth of renewable energy to successful conservation efforts. Moreover, people around the world are increasingly aware and motivated to combat climate change and environmental degradation. These collective efforts and the recognition of our shared responsibility for the planet offer hope for a sustainable future. Managing your eco-anxiety doesn’t mean diminishing the seriousness of the environmental crisis, rather it empowers you to face it with resilience, positivity, and active participation.

José Amorim
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