In recent years there has been a growing awareness of ‘eco-anxiety’, this seemed to balloon last October following the dire predictions in the most recent report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The report acted as a long-needed wake-up call to the Climate Emergency and the desperate need to act to prevent climate breakdown.
Psychology today describes eco-anxiety as “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis”.
Through this and previous roles I have heard people express their feelings of anxiety, frustration and powerlessness. Some were just recognising the situation we are in and beginning to ask ‘what can I do?’ All too often these people ran into an overwhelming barrage of issues and threats. Others were seasoned environmental campaigners, conservationists or scientists who, despite their best efforts, are faced with seemingly endless bad news.
So, I decided to ask an expert for her opinion; Mary Jane Rust is an experienced eco-psychologist, who has worked for many years to understand and improve our emotional responses to the environmental situation we are in.
‘’I think it’s normal to feel anxious in relation to very worrying situations, just as most people (if not everyone) would feel anxious in wartime, or anxious if they were given a serious medical diagnosis. I think the climate scientists are giving the earth a very serious diagnosis. Of course, those of us who are awake to the situation feel anxious about what is coming in the future….. The anxiety is a healthy one: feeling anxious is part of feeling alarmed and hopefully that alarm can lead us to take action in an emergency.’’
So, how do we change Eco-anxiety into empowerment, action and hope?
Firstly, we need to discuss these feelings. Beneath anxiety there’s usually other emotions like fear, anger, frustration and even grief. Finding a place to discuss these feelings is important, once they are recognised and expressed, they tend to ease. Perhaps they will rise up again from time to time, as part of a normal reaction to the situation we are in, but sitting alone with them rarely gives any solace.
Mary Jane also recommends ‘cultivating a deeper relationship with the other-than-human world’. Visit one of our nature reserves, join us at an event or simply give yourself 10 minutes to watch the birds out of your window. The psychological benefits of nature on mental health are well documented and it’s important to enjoy the natural world. Despite the situation there is still a lot of richness and beauty out there, remember to recognise it.
Finally, take action! Find something you really care about, a cause that captures your heart and imagination, focus on that. Remember, that the biggest strength of the human race is cooperation, do your part and trust that many others will do the same.
If enough of us put our eco-anxiety to good use, even in small ways, we could go beyond preventing climate breakdown and into a global regeneration.
Ideas on groups to get involved with:
Volunteer with Somerset Wildlife Trust
Join the Wildlife Trusts' national campaign: Wilder Future
Get involved with the Transition Towns
Join the Somerset Climate Action Network Facebook Group to speak to like-minded people