I must admit, I’m the one who has to take a deep breath before looking at photos of climate disasters, who brings up the conversation about climate change at family lunches and who finds herself wondering what can be done about our world’s current state. So, when I heard of the term ‘eco-anxiety’ I had to do my research.
So, what is eco-anxiety? Well, first of all, it’s a pretty new concept and Sarah Niblock of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, notes that it is not an illness or a disorder but a perfectly normal and healthy reaction. Eco anxiety is generally defined as the fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster which is largely based upon current and predicted future sates of our environment. The American Psychiatric Association (APA), describe the term as a “chronic fear of environmental doom” (APA, 2017).
While the APA does not recognise eco-anxiety as a diagnosable condition, it does note that the changing climate may affect mental health in various ways, including: reduced feelings of autonomy/control, anxiety, depression, aggression, feelings of helplessness, trauma and shock and PTSD. Environmental issues affect different individuals in different ways. Those who are at higher risk of experiencing or having relatives/close friends affected by climate related disasters such as draught, wildfires and hurricane may experience higher levels of eco-anxiety. Another group of people who might face higher risks of eco-anxiety are those who work in environmentally related jobs or are first responders/emergency healthcare workers. While for some people, the rise in environmental crises is only a passing thought, scientific evidence indicates that for others it may be a source of constant debilitating anxiety.
Some tips that may help manage eco-anxiety include:
While there is no medical definition of eco-anxiety, many mental health professionals are receiving training and expanding their knowledge on the issue. While it is natural to feel sad and discouraged at times, if a person feels that their worries are interfering with daily life, it is beneficial to seek support of a mental health professional.
- Educating yourself by finding credible and accurate information. This may help you feel more prepared should an environmental crisis strike and give you a clearer picture of what is happening.
- Becoming active by volunteering, talking to others or making more eco-friendly choices in your own personal life.
- Focusing on resiliency and being optimistic which may help break negative thoughts that are associated with anxiety.
- Exercising and reconnecting with nature. While exercise benefits the body and mind in various ways, reconnecting with nature can also help with having a more positive relationship with your environment. This can also be done in small ways by incorporating nature in your homes or carrying a simple, nature related object such as a dried flower or pebble that you can look at or touch when feeling overwhelmed in order to ground yourself.
- Knowing when to step-back. While being active and educating oneself provide the right tools, being exposed to an overwhelming amount of information may be harmful. Social media and advertising platforms may often relay inaccurate or excessive amounts of information, resulting in increased stress levels. It is good to know when to unplug and step back, even if only to lower the immediate amount of stress.
Michaela Pace is a Psychology graduate from the University of Malta. She has worked with children and adolescents within the social sector and currently works as a Triage Officer and Chat Bar Coordinator within Willingness Team. Michaela aims to further her studies locally by pursuing a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy in the near future.