What is Eco-Anxiety?

We are living in an era where wildfires, plastic pollution, melting ice and dying oceans are a regular feature on all media channels. Action from the top is slow or non existent despite science and activists confirming that the concerns are real and we have limited time to act. So I’m not surprised that people are losing sleep, feeling anxious, having panic attacks or obsessively worrying about the future. This has very recently been given the label of ‘eco-anxiety’. The good news is that this is a completely normal reaction. We are hard wired to experience stress as it acts as our personal internal warning system. The tensions caused tell us that something is wrong and we need to ACT.

Although eco-anxiety isn’t a recognised mental health issue itself it could enhance pre existing conditions. Psychologists suggest that eco-anxiety is more common in women and cases in young people are rapidly increasing. Caroline Hickman, from Bath’s Department of Social & Policy Sciences and the Climate Psychology Alliance, suggests that eco-anxiety now affects more children than ever before.

Eco-Anxiety and me

I for one have had first hand experience of that overwheming feeling of helplessness at the enormity of the task ahead. I’ve been involved with river and beach clean ups, including clearing up 5 tonnes of rubbish from the Scottish wilderness and organising the biggest British beach clean in Brighton after the Pride celebrations. In the network of pollution activists and eco-aware people I know the levels of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are rife.  Is that a sign that they are eco-anxious or is it just a symptom of modern society?  I will leave that for you to decide.

Looking at the man made devastation, it is easy to get caught in a spiral of ‘what’s the point’. But there is a point! And if you don’t do something, who will? And if we all do something, wow! Imagine what we could actually achieve.

Find your meaning and your motivation but dont be alarmed if you still find yourself tripping into overwhelm on occasion.  If you notice you are doing that – forgive yourself, refocus and move on.

ocean advocacy

Ocean Advocacy and Climate Change

If you are wondering what ocean advocacy has to do with climate change – the answer is LOADS! Many of the solutions for plastic pollution also help to reduce climate change.  But the real magic is in my favourite creatures on our blue planet – whales!  Whale poop helps to reduce the impact of climate change!

‘A study undertaken several years ago by the University of Vermont showed that whales have a huge impact on the healthy functioning of the oceans (and thus the planet as a whole), particularly when it comes to carbon sequestration. Conservation biologist Joe Roman, who took part in the study, believes that the massive decline of whale numbers due to commercial whaling very likely altered the structure and function of the oceans.

Whale poop serves as a nutritional powerhouse for phytoplankton. It is particularly rich in iron and nitrogen, two key minerals necessary for phytoplankton growth. So essentially what is happening is that whales are fertilising the plankton – which is a primary food source for countless animals in the sea. It is all a perfect cycle. More whales = more whale poo = more plankton blooms = more fish.’

Find out more here. (extract from the linked article)

beach clean

My top tips for noticing eco-anxiety and how to reframe it into positive action:

1. Acknowledge it

It is a perfectly normal response to the crazy environmental times we live in at the moment. Say to yourself “That’s right – I am concerned about the environment”. By owning it you take control of it and you can then move on to action.

2. Get Specific

This is a common problem with many things in life!  It is also often a problem pattern that prevents us from taking positive steps for change.  If we are stuck in ‘maybe man’ mode  we don’t clearly identify the root cause. When we are uncertain of our own experience we can’t find the right solutions. This is where taking time out to be mindful can really help you to find clarity.
I find with clients that it is often something less obvious that is actually the root cause of concern. So eco-anxiety for example, could be masking another unhelpful emotion like guilt or shame.  If you arent clear on what is causing you an issue I am able to help you.  If you want to work it out for yourself then I can give you some tools to do so too.
eco-anxiety
Get Mindful – As soon as you can watch your thoughts, you are no longer a slave to them
Find a quiet spot and sit in a comfortable position, ideally with a straight back and with the supports that you need to maintain comfort with out distraction. Some guidance on meditation posture here.
Turn off your phone!
Set the intention to take some time out without distractions to sit with your own thoughts and figure out what your biggest concerns are.
I personally find that mindful breathing techniques help me to clear away the mental clutter and allow the real concerns to become clear. If mindful breathing isn’t something that you are familiar with don’t worry! Just spending this time out to focus on the intention will be enough to allow the real concerns to show themselves.
It might be useful to visualise yourself in a bubble before doing this exercise so that you know that you have resources that will help you to confront the eco-anxiety that might arise. Also remind yourself that this is a step towards action and positive change.
Identify your specific concerns by noticing what comes up: Is it climate change or plastic pollution for example? If you have several, try writing them on post-it notes and see if you can find an order of priority. Often you can get a feeling for the one that worries you the most by playing with the order of the post-its.
Once you have your top priority, acknowledge that you’re not superhuman and can’t fix all the world’s problems single handedly.  Accept that you need to start somewhere and now you know the area of your biggest concern you can make a plan of action.
mindfulness

3. Don’t get so caught up with what the future might hold that you stop living

It is oh so easy to wind yourself up by running ‘what if’ scenarios. What if I can’t stop buying single use? What if all the ice melts? What if we literally drown in plastic? The reality is that

whatever you are coming up with in your ‘what ifs’ will vary from the sublime to the ridiculous and in man cases may not happen at all.

My four stage antidote to ‘what-if-ing’:

  • First, remind yourself that you have dealt with all life’s challenges so far, so why would future challenges be any different?
  • Ask yourself – what would happen if it didnt happen?! And what would you actually do if it did… you would deal with it one way or another and that is for sure!
  • Then take some time out to get present. To do that, stop what you are doing and sit with your breath for a couple of minutes. Remind yourself that all we have at this exact moment is now.
  • Find something that you are grateful for. Spend a few minutes acknowledging that gratitude and allow it to percolate through your whole being. For instance, I might be grateful to be healthy or that the sun is shining, or that I got to look at the ocean that day.

By doing this, I tend to be able to get out of the ‘what if’ cycle so that I can focus on creating an action plan.

4. Look for positives

We, as humans, tend to focus on the negative and this can mean that we distort the bigger picture by deleting the good stuff. But we can change that by focussing on the good stuff. Where our attention goes our energy flows and all that jazz. Yes we have lots of issues facing us but there are also lots of hugely inspiring people and initiatives out there too. The more you engage with those solutions and positive actions the better you will feel. If you stop and think, you notice that we are talking about the solutions now more than ever and there is a mass uprising of demand for action. We need to focus on this progress and keep that momentum going.

5. Take responsibility but be ok with being average

It is really easy to lay responsibility on others and get caught up in a blame game but the truth is that we all have a part to play.

Concentrate on your own personal sphere of influence and see what actions you can take in order to have an impact within that sphere. That could be looking to see how you can implement changes at home, within your family, school or workplace. If you want to look beyond that then you could write to your local MP or to your favourite brands and ask them what actions they are taking.

I am totally loving Jen Gale’s new book ‘a Sustainable(ish) Life’ which has TONNES of easy to follow tips and advice for simple actions in. 

Taking responsibility is one thing but don’t overwhelm yourself. It is really easy to assume responsibility for everything but you also need to take care of yourself and understand your personal limitations.

This was a bit of a eureka moment for me in my personal journey. I kept finding all these amazing projects doing amazing things and wanted to be a part of it all. I was chasing all the shiny things! I ended up tired and exhausted and not much use to any project let alone my own. Once I realised that I needed to take time out for self nurture so that I could start from a place of fullness I got my balance back and am so much more useful to people and planet!

You can’t help the environment from a half empty cup. So take care of you before you take care of others. It sounds counter-intuitive but believe me it helps everyone more in the long run. And accept that you are not a superhuman, it is ok to just be ok and to just do what you can.

 #ecoanxiety

Take action

I discuss eco-anxiety with most of the environmentalists and campaigners I come across. It is a hot topic that is discussed in my podcast and an area that I am continuing to explore. By far the most common antidote I hear from people who really are at the front line of the issues is ACTion.

Any anxiety is a process that is often held up by underlying guilt. In the instance of eco-anxiety that guilt is likely to be guilt for some small environmental faux pas… leaving the lights on, using too much water, buying something in plastic etc etc.

Shun the idea of perfection because that is an impossible goal.

By doing something, no matter how big or small that ACTion is, you start to chip away at your own guilt and in turn you knock down the foundations of that eco-anxiety.

 

Ultimately, to combat eco-anxiety you need to ACT:

eco-anxiety

Remember to always focus on what you CAN do and share what you have learnt or what you are doing so that you inspire others and create a ripple effect of positive change. If you need support dealing with any of the processes or issues discussed or would like help defining an action plan that works for you then please get in touch or book a discovery call.

 For tips and inspiring stories from every day heroes who have decided to take action tune into the Clare Talks Rubbish Podcast. For more practical advice on carrying out clean ups and engaging your community in solutions check out my Paddle Cleanup Toolkit.