Australia is continuing to battle against devastating bushfires, which are a clear consequence of climate change. If headlines around the fires are causing you to feel eco anxiety then you are not alone, with new research discovering that over a third of us are suffering from feelings of fear and anxiety around climate change and global warming. Here, an expert offers her best advice for how to cope with these feelings.
These are just a couple of headlines that have run in the news over the past few weeks. They’re scary and attention-grabbing, which is how they were intended to be: the climate crisis is a very real and credible threat to our planet, and we all need to sit up and take action if we want to avoid disaster.
But while it’s vital for us to understand the importance of climate change and global warming, are the constant headlines, news alerts and viral hysteria becoming a threat to our mental health?
Responding to a comment from a former chief scientist that the speed at which climate change was occurring was ‘scary’, the UN’s weather chief has said that we should avoid using such alarming language to describe global warming because it could make us depressed and anxious.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that new research has revealed that over a third (34%) of us are experiencing “eco anxiety”, a specific type of anxiety that is linked to fear and worry about the future of the planet. In addition, a huge number of us (29%) are feeling “overwhelmed” by climate change, with this number rising to 40% for those aged 16-24.
The figures, from ethical bank Triodos Bank UK, show that eco anxiety is very real, and while media outlets around the world are right to ramp up their coverage of the climate crisis (especially with certain world leaders appearing to be ignoring the crisis altogether) it could be having a negative effect on our sanity and mental health.
If you find yourself feeling anxious, worried or panicked about the climate crisis, then Chloe Brotheridge, a hypnotherapist and coach at www.calmer-you.com, has shared her advice for tackling these feelings below.
Come back into the present moment
Even though the future might seem uncertain, we can recognise that right here and right now, all is well. Right now, we are safe. Right now, we have everything we need; food in our belly, a roof over our head, clean air to breathe. A key symptom of anxiety is worrying about the future – but the only moment where we have any control is the here and now. Practising mindfulness meditation can help to train your brain to stay present. In your day-to-day life, bring your attention back to what you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste to distract you away from the future and come back to the now.
Have gratitude for what you have
Gratitude is the antidote to anxiety. Can you channel your fear of loss into a greater appreciation for what you have right now? Recently, I’ve found myself being more grateful for the simple things that I might have taken for granted in the past. Water running in the taps, a fridge stocked with healthy food, seeing the green parakeets in the park, spending time with my family. Gratitude is the best way to promote a positive mindset and, in turn, a feeling of calm.
Turn your anxiety into action
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead, anthropologist
It’s easy to feel as though we are helpless, but our actions matter. You may feel tempted to bury your head in the sand when it comes to climate change, or think that nothing you do will have an impact, but lots of small changes can add up to something big. Anxiety is an energy and we can turn it into positive forward momentum by taking action. That might look like signing petitions, going on marches (such as the global Climate Strike on 20 September 2019), joining Extinction Rebellion, voting for parties that support the climate, buying less stuff, eating less meat and dairy, driving and flying less or donating money to organisations that support the environment. When we take some action, we feel less helpless and more in control.
You can read more about the global climate strike this Friday by clicking here
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” - Anne-Marie Bonneau (@ZeroWasteChef)
Our addiction to shopping and our insatiable need for material things can fuel our anxiety when we realise how much waste we’re creating. A simple and surprisingly freeing (and money-saving) technique I’ve been employing lately is buying less stuff. Asking ourselves if we really need something before clicking ‘buy now’ and instead seeing if we can buy second-hand, make do without, or borrow what we need means we feel more in control of the waste that we’re creating. Besides, as anyone who has decluttered their house knows, having less clutter around us is good for our mental health.
Get comfortable with uncertainty
Modern life has created the illusion of safety and security but nothing in this life is guaranteed. Sorry to sound morbid but you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Our ancestors survived a lot of uncertainty, including droughts, an ice age, wars and famine to name but a few. We might not believe that we can handle the uncertainty, but we can – it’s in our DNA and we’re built for it. Can we sit with the discomfort of not knowing exactly how our future will be and learn to be OK with it, just as our ancestors had to?
Switch to sustainable products
Another way to ease our eco-anxiety is to tread more lightly on the earth by using sustainable products where we can. That might look like a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, period-proof underwear and menstrual cups, choosing skincare that comes in reusable glass bottles, using shampoo and conditioner bars over plastic bottles and using recycled loo roll.
You can shop our pick of the best resuable water bottles here, and the best resuable coffee cups here, and discover more about sustainable period products by clicking here
If you’re overwhelmed by news stories or the stress of activism is becoming too much, take a break and look after yourself. During times of global change and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to nurture ourselves, rest and recharge. Think about what nourishment feels like for you and make it a priority.
You can be inspired to try some new self-care methods by clicking here
Remember that everything is impermanent
The topic of impermanence is talked about in Hindu and Buddhist religions and is the understanding that everything is subject to decay and dissolution eventually. Sickness, ageing and death are inevitable for all of us. All structures, even huge mountains or giant skyscrapers, will one day fade or crumble away. Our anxious minds would love to believe that things can be fixed, stable, safe and unchanging. If we can surrender to the changes of life we will find more peace than if we resist what is happening.