As our world endures destructive and harsh events caused by climate change, we are now experiencing the effects for ourselves and witnessing them from afar as we see and hear about the impacts across many countries.
Eco anxiety is the experiencing of this human caused climatic change as a chronic fear of environmental doom, worrying about what will happen if we don’t avert disaster in time.
It is a healthy response to the ecological threats we are facing, such as increased flooding, more frequent wild fires, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and it often creates a sense of helplessness. Eco anxiety affects people of all ages, particularly those affected by it first hand and young adults.
In 2021 research was conducted with 16–25-year-olds across 10 countries with 75% believing “the future is frightening”. Their climate distress is linked to a perceived inaction of government creating feelings of being dismissed and betrayed.
“There is substantial evidence that climate change has a detrimental impact on mental health, with costs to individuals, health systems and economies.” (report by the Grantham Institute 2021)
Feelings commonly experienced with eco anxiety are,
Loss, grief, guilt, shame, powerlessness, fear and anger.
It is important to note that eco anxiety is not a disorder, it can be come and go in intensity and can impact daily functioning if left unattended.
Symptoms of eco anxiety can include, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, ability to concentrate, it can lead to hyperarousal in noticing and even criticising even small climate-negative behaviours in others, inability to stop “doom scrolling”, depression and lack of hope for a future.
It can also manifest positively as a “call to action” such as petitioning government on environmental changes, reducing plastic consumption, shopping more ethically, volunteering on litter picks and buying second hand.
Tips for eco anxiety
Start small, if you are looking to make changes in your home, start with one or two items such as swapping to bamboo toothbrushes or swapping to bars of soap over liquid soap.
Reframe thoughts such as “I can’t make a difference on my own”, to “I want to find other like-minded people for advice and support.”
Don’t criticise others, share, celebrate and encourage each other with pro environmental behaviours.
When you feel helpless, focus on what is in your control.