Eco-anxiety: what it is and how to deal with it

Susan Clayton, environmental anxiety guru at the College of Wooster, says: “We can tell that a significant proportion of people are stressed and worried about the potential impacts of climate change, and that levels of anxiety are almost certainly on the rise.”

It’s good when worries about the planet only give you an incentive to act, and do not drive you into depression. Eco-anxiety is not only bad for you, but also for the planet, because you are capable of more when you are calm and reasonable. How is stress different from anxiety?  

Stress. Stress is a common occurrence, it’s our body’s way of coping with situations that we consider threatening. We get the release of certain hormones that trigger the response of our cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems. It makes us hyper-vigilant, ready to fight – useful in small doses.

Depression and anxiety. However, increased stress levels in the long run can have some really negative effects on our mental health. This can lead to depression or anxiety. Symptoms include: feeling sad, empty, irritable, hopeless, angry, losing interest in work, your hobbies, or your family, and being unable to concentrate. As well as sleep problems, for example, you may struggle to sleep while feeling extremely tired.

What to do?

If you think you might be suffering from eco-anxiety, or know someone who might, here are a few ways to help manage your panic.

1. Acknowledge the situation and talk about it. Have you seen these symptoms in yourself? If yes, then grab a friend and your favorite drink, share your experiences.

2. Think about what brings relief and do more. For example, grab reusable utensils when you shop for takeout at your favorite coffee shop, bike to work, spend the day in the family garden, or organize a forest cleanup.

3. Communicate with the community. Find like-minded people. Find those who don’t care. Then you will see that it is not so bad. 

4. Put the feeling in place. Remember that anxiety is just a feeling, not a fact! Try to think differently. Instead of saying, “I’m useless when it comes to climate change.” Switch to: “I feel useless when it comes to climate change.” Or even better: “I’ve noticed that I feel useless when it comes to climate change.” Emphasize that this is your feeling, not a fact. 

Take care of yourself

Simply put, you are not alone. There are many things you can do that are good for you and the planet. Participate in charity, become a volunteer or take any steps on your own to improve the climate situation. But remember, in order to take care of the planet, you must first take care of yourself. 

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