Anxiousness about climate change, also known as “eco-anxiety” isn’t yet officially a syndrome, however it is absolutely something that impacts many people, even if it hasn’t yet made its way into the official American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) list of disorders.
Humans have faced existential threats before. Those of us old enough to have been around in the 1980’s will likely remember the nuclear threats facing us. But climate change – this is taking things to a whole other level.
Whilst we may not feel that we, single individuals can do anything much to solve the climate change problem, I do think that there are things we can do if we want to feel better. …of course considering that maybe for some, feeling better isn’t the goal. We might prefer to join the fight, such as Extinction Rebellion and complacency and comfort is the farthest thing from our minds.
If feeling better is your goal, then here are some of my suggestions:
Focus on the good
Identify what makes you feel good and do more of that. Being with your kids and dear friends and family, listening to or playing music, sport and recreation, learning, hobbies and community groups – all of these can make a significant difference to our wellbeing and peace of mind. Look for the good in people and the world and dwell on that. It’s almost impossible to feel fearful and grateful in the same moment, so if feeling better is your goal then consciously work to train yourself towards focusing on things to appreciate and be grateful for. You may be surprised by just how many you can come up with.
Also, conversely, know what makes you feel anxious and take active steps to avoid it. For me, I know I have mentioned this many times, but taking regular breaks from (social) media really works for me. There’s only so much doom and gloom and opinions presented and debated as facts (and not just about the climate) that I can handle.
Focus on the local
I could easily quickly become overwhelmed with world problems, including climate change, but how helpful is that really if you’re not actually going to leave your normal life and go and help somewhere else? I’ve made the decision to keep my focus mainly local, that way I believe that I can make a contribution on some level. Volunteer to take care of a plot of land, plant some trees, clean your local beach or riverbed. What else can you do to beautify and nurture your local area and help the people within it? Similarly, think about what and who you would be most keen to make a contribution to and serve. You can’t make a difference everywhere but you can make a difference somewhere. Who or what could you make the focus of your time, energy and contribution?
Be in nature
When things become overwhelming for me, which they sometimes do, I know when I need to restore my equilibrium and get into nature. Living in Christchurch this is easy for most of us as most neighbourhoods have parks, walking tracks and green spaces to be in. It’s easy to get out on a bike or even take the bus to the edge of the city and enjoy exploring somewhere different to refresh yourself. I personally believe that being in nature is one of most restorative things we can do.
We often talk about movement and exercise – that’s because it’s the best antidepressant! Doesn’t have to be intense or take a lot of time. The key is to get into the habit of movement.
I sometimes joke that life is short so we need to drink wine. What I mean by this is more metaphorical than literal. Life is tough – some would say it’s suffering, it certainly is some of the time at least. I personally think that is all the more reason to build celebration and fun into it where we can. Be with those people who build you up and make you feel good and limit your time to be around those who bring you down. Enjoy the small things. Celebrate the beauty and craziness of “lifes rich pageant”.
Be proactive and take charge of your life
Whether you believe it or not and whether or not you actively take steps to shape it, you are mistress or master of your destiny so how about owning that and acting on it? To live with intent and do what you can to shape your future, although challenging, is the way to feel like you have some power or control over what happens to you. Of course you will be derailed from time to time, stuff happens, but you’ll likely find it easier to pick yourself up again if you have something to live for and work towards. You’ll also slowly but surely be able to move in the direction of your aims and maybe even dreams.
On a related note, if you are plagued by habits of thinking that really don’t serve you, consider getting some help with that. After all, our thinking influences our perception and therefore our experience of life. If you don’t like what you’re experiencing and are prepared to do something about it, learning how to change your thinking can have a profound positive impact. It can be so hard to change our ways of thinking on our own because we are mostly guided by unconscious motivations, so getting some help can make a massive difference. This is where counsellors and coaches can really help.
Be in awe
Music, art, sporting excellence and all manner of human endeavour, creativity and inventions can blow us away if we allow them to. Focus on all the beauty in the world and the ways people are inspiring, kind, caring and downright amazing. This is something that can bring so much pleasure, and it’s always there if we just stop and choose to notice and appreciate it.
Be here now
Be here now in the moment and savour it. Many of us are in such a state of constant distraction and we allow ourselves to be elsewhere so that we rarely get to feel the peace of paying full attention to, let alone savouring, our current situation and moment. Ruminating on the past or fearing for the future – neither of them are helpful and nor are they able to be influenced other than by paying attention to right here, right now. This in itself is a topic way bigger than this blog, but learning how to be more mindful can pay huge dividends in helping us feel less anxious and more connected to other people and to where we are at. Consider a mindfulness course – it can be life changing! I recently completed a beginners course with Mindfulnessworks and highly recommend them.
And here are some suggestions to manage eco-anxiety that I found in a recent New Scientist online article: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2220561-stressed-about-climate-change-eight-tips-for-managing-eco-anxiety/ (some of which I concur with more than others):
- Live more in alignment with your values
This could be eating less meat and dairy, driving less and stop buying and consuming so much stuff.
- Give your home an energy health check
Is your house as energy-efficient as it could be? What can you do about it?
- Cut back on flying, especially if you are a frequent flyer
The Swedish have a new term for this: flygskam (“flight shame”). You might consider cutting back on the amount of flying and travelling you do.
- Don’t feel ashamed
Environment writer and activist Emma Marris noted that trying to do what we can is one thing, but living with the guilt is another.
- Focus your efforts on changing systems, not yourself
I agree with the experts here – sometimes I hang my head in frustration that basic changes aren’t happening where they need to be – why on earth do so many products need to be over-packaged? A tube packed inside a box, wrapped in plastic. I don’t see the companies (such as cosmetic companies) being the first to change, so I think we need to do more as the end user/consumer to complain and let them know how we want things to be!
- Find like-minded people
It’s stating the obvious to say that we all feel better being around those who we believe we have things in common with, so why not extend this and hang with a crowd of people who are likeminded in wanting to make a climate difference? Check out Gen Less or Extinction Rebellion for example.
- Protect and nurture local green spaces
We have to value these and feel connected to them if we are to care about them – I think of David Attenborough’s work – think of the beauty of the natural world he has introduced so many people to. If we don’t feel connected to nature, then I think it’s harder to want to protect it.
- Talk about the changes you make
Jennings spoke about the importance of talking about your experiences – the challenges as well as the positives – and bringing other people along with you. “Talking about the practical things people can do in their day-to-day lives gives people some sense of control back, which I think can really improve people’s well-being,” he told the meeting.