What is Eco-Anxiety ? 10 Simple Ideas to Manage Climate Change & Your Stress
What is the Climate Crisis?
A serious issue with the climate crisis is the increase in temperature on our planet. Since industrialization, human fossil fuel burning has pushed the average temperature of the atmosphere up by 1.1º C and, at present, we are on a path to over 3 degrees increase. The scientifically accepted level of irreversible damage to our life-sustaining planet is 1. 5 to 2 degrees C. To achieve 1.5º C, we need to reduce emissions by 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050 – ambitious and doable if we take immediate and bold action. We can now understand why people are suffering from eco-anxiety.
What is eco-anxiety and why does it matter?
Not all anxiety is a disorder. Eco-anxiety is entirely justified and is grounded in a deep appreciation of science, a love of our awe-inspiring planet, and a caring for future generations, born and unborn. There aren’t enough words to describe the scope of the tragedy unfolding on our watch. Massive species and habitat loss have already occurred and continue to increase. According to World Health Organization projections, we can anticipate 250,000 climate-related human deaths each year from 2030 – 2050. Projections are for a billion climate/hunger refugees and related unrest. Increased wildfires, floods, storms, and pandemics will increase manifold. I’ll give you a moment to let this sink in – but only one. Time has almost run out. Climate change is not a future event. It’s unfolding before our eyes.
What are the symptoms?
Many people, from youth to elders feel equally like hiding under the covers and screaming in the streets. Some of those screaming in the streets or engaging in civil disobedience are being arrested by their governments or shunned by their families. Perhaps one powerful example was the tears fought back by Cop26 (international summit on climate change) President Alok Sharma as he apologized to future generations for the watered-down deal agreed to by participating nations.
A study of 10,000 young people (aged 16-25 years), from ten countries, published in 2021 by the British Medical Journal, Lancet found:
- 59% were very or extremely worried and 84% were at least moderately worried
- Over 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty
- Over 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cites the growing impacts of the climate crisis on mental health. There is widespread distress, especially among younger members of the population who understandably feel their futures are in jeopardy. Their distress is tied directly to the perception that society’s and governments’ response, thus far, is profoundly insufficient.
How do we manage it?
Our reactions are up to us. While meditation and mindfulness will not slow climate change, it can help when anxiety, fear, or rage feel unbearable – when they’re preventing us from taking action, rather than inspiring us to do so. Renowned author Joanna Macy writes about the pain of climate change being so great we feel we have no choice but to retreat into denial or apathy. It hurts too much to care. Remember to take a deep breath of our planet’s life-giving air and think about the people and places that bring you joy. Try one of many meditation apps. Two free apps include Smiling Mind and/or Healthy Minds, the latter being affiliated with the Center of Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (there is a donate button for those who wish to give in this way). The app Calm has both a free and a paid version. Another way to feel less helpless is to take action. There is no end of creative ways. Perhaps one or two of the following ideas may inspire you, or maybe they’ll kindle other ideas that fit with who you are and the gifts you have to offer.
Here are 10 ideas to take action & give back to our awe-inspiring planet:
Reverse Climate Change and Eco-Anxiety
- Become politically involved…and register to vote. Corporate wrongdoers (and they’re not all wrongdoers) would like you to believe individual actions are the solution. Systemic change is needed which takes bold ethical leadership. Donate your time or money to political or policy causes that stand for meaningful climate action. There’s a reason this action is first on the list.
- Plant one (or many) trees. There are sites and programs in many countries that help you do this. Trees reduce pollution, provide oxygen, store carbon, produce food and medicine, cool the air, shade your home, keep the soil from eroding, are essential for the water cycle, provide habitat for wildlife, and support mental health. Check out One Tree Planted, Trees for the Future, and Trees, Water & People. If you don’t have the funds, not to worry. Switch your search engine to Ecosia which uses ad revenue from your searches to plant trees where most needed.
- Next celebratory event, cook someone a meat-free meal and share the recipe. Post a photo of your awesome gift to inspire others.
- Consumers hold power. Next time you or someone you love needs something (and not before), consider slow fashion – a growing opposition to fast fashion in an effort to buy less and to invest in items that last longer, are environmentally friendly, ethically sourced, and support the livelihood of artisans. Want to “one up” the trend? Learn to knit, crochet, or sew with natural or re-used fibers. Knitting circles have a proud feminist history of political activism. Yarn art installations or graffiti knitting are rarely grounds for arrest. Swedish environmental activist and Time Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg, and her friends, knit frog hats (see image) to calm their minds, connect socially, and recharge their batteries so they can continue the fight. Michelle Obama is a passionate knitter. ‘Nuff said!
- Extend the life of an item while being trendy. Buy preloved items – both saving the planet and saving money. Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. 6 million tons of clothing are sent to landfills or incinerated every year. Some materials take centuries to decompose. Multiply your impact and encourage others by posting a photo of your newfound treasure. Reduce, rewear, recycle, repair, resell.
- I have an inspiring friend whose family ritual each holiday season is that gifts must be secondhand, homemade, or crafted by local artisans. Christmas alone accounts for nearly 6 percent of carbon dioxide that Western nations produce.
- Be creative. Re-use and make your own gift wrap. Approximately 11.8 million kilos of carbon dioxide are emitted each year manufacturing holiday wrap. Consider using old newspapers, maps, magazines and create your own unique designs. Tea towels and pillowcases make great wrap. Or understated recycled brown paper, twine, and a sprig of green makes an elegant statement. I haven’t bought gift wrap in years…yet always seem to have something that works.
- If possible, walk your kids to school. Not only is this a gift to your body and a gift to the planet, when my fantabulous son gave a speech at a party he included a “best Mom” story about our walks to school, knowing I had to rejig my day to make it to work on time. Not every parent can do this, so enhance your impact and offer to pick up a friend or two on route.
- Start carrying your own utensils or dishes. On our last trip, my husband and I carried our own dishes to hotel breakfasts that were otherwise served on styrofoam. When asked about this by curious patrons, we were able to spread the word and let fellow guests know Styrofoam lasts 500+ years in landfills – who knew?! Added bonus – food tastes better from real plates and cutlery.
- What needs doing? What are you good at? What brings you joy and re-energizes you? Find the overlap. My story? I spent decades working in another sector and thought intentionally about what skills I have that are transferable. I now volunteer for an environmental board that is challenging governments to do better. I mentor bright young leaders in the environmental sector since leadership skills are transferable. I joined a protest choir and plan to join a monthly “critical mass” bike ride to celebrate cycling as a form of action/protest/traffic jam to lobby for safe streets for cyclists and other forms of rolling, and case in point, I’m writing. It’s not what I envisioned my calling to be at this time, yet through all of this I am making new friends and stimulating brain neuron generation through learning.
What are your skills and passions? Art? Math? We need all hands on deck. As psychologist Klein Salamon writes, “It doesn’t really matter whether there’s a 50%, or 10% or 1% chance that it’s going to work. What matters is doing everything you can to enhance that likelihood.”
Visit 365give.ca or read these blogs for further ideas on reversing climate change.