Eco-Anxiety: what is it and how can I manage it?

Five years ago, people who worried or even talked about climate change were getting labeled as ‘catastrophists’. Two years ago, the Doomsday Clock striked 23:58, which is the closest the clock had been to midnight in 73 years. Today, the clock is 100 seconds away from ‘doomsday’ and the climate change topic is as hot as it gets (no pun intended). The year has only just begun and we’ve already had two major catastrophes: the wildfires in Australia, which are still causing damage to this day, and storm Gloria, one of the harshest, most violent storms Spain has experienced to this day. 

The climate emergency is real, and unfortunately it’s already become part of our everyday lives. So much so that in 2017, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) even gave its own definition of the term ‘eco-anxiety’, originally coined by a team of experts and researchers, calling it “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. According to a recent survey, three fourths of millennials nowadays suffer from this sense of anxiety after reading or hearing environmental news. 

Generally speaking, anxiety refers to the feeling that arises when a person senses they’re in danger, whether the danger is real or not. It’s a natural response of the body to an emergency situation. Usually, the situation it’s simply a false alarm but that doesn’t stop the body from feeling all the symptoms one would get when faced with a dangerous situation. The problem however with eco anxiety, is that the danger is there, but it’s not happening tomorrow either. The person feeling this anxiety knows this and feels helpless regarding both the problem at hand and its solution.

This is how Fernando Vallespín explains it in an article written for Spanish newspaper El País: 

What’s scary about ecological disasters is that they don’t ‘show their face‘. Contrary to the impact of a meteorite, a nuclear explosion or a volcano erupting, we can’t associate this kind of ecological devastation to a specific event. Does anyone know the actual effect microplastic is going to have long-term? We only know that there’s going to be a turning point at some point, and that from that moment on, we won’t be turning back”. 

And that’s the core of the issue when it comes to eco-anxiety. That menacing turning point hovering over our heads. We don’t know when it’s coming, how it’s going to come or if it’s coming at all, and that’s what’s most scary. 

Eco-anxiety can manifest itself in two ways: it can present itself as the result of an imminent catastrophe, or, on a more global scale, it can stem from the awareness of a rising risk of extreme weather events, loss of livelihood or housing, fears for future generations, and an overall feeling of helplessness for the state of our ever-changing planet. 

The symptoms are very similar to the ones in other types of anxiety: stress, difficulty breathing, panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, insomnia, lack of appetite and a large list of other symptoms that vary from person to person. The symptoms can be mild or they can be more serious, but what’s actually important is how we manage them. Here are some tips that can help you next time you feel overwhelmed or defeated by climate change: 

Don’t carry the whole world on your shoulders

Sometimes we start reading articles upon articles on the Internet and it seems like the world is coming to an end tomorrow. We want to help but we don’t even know where to start: do we start with the oceans? Should we go vegan first? How are we supposed to recycle? Instead of wanting to fix all at once, try focusing on one thing at a time. Focus on the thing that worries you the most and start changing that. It’s better to take it step by step than trying to jump and fail because the jump was too big.

Write it down

Writing down your thoughts can help organising them. Sometimes anxiety gets the best of us and sends our brain into a spiral of thoughts and fears that’s very difficult to stop. Try to take a moment, breathe and meditate if you can, and start writing everything that comes to mind down on a journal. You’ll feel a weight has been lifted off your shoulder once you’re done. 

Take part in activities organised by your community

Or just do something with your friends. Take a tote bag and go pick up some trash. Go to the beach, to a park or even clean the streets in your hometown. You can also raise funds for a cause you’re passionate about with a fun event. Actually doing something instead of sitting at home worrying will make you feel better, and plus: you’ll make a day out of it!

Less time reading, more time breathing

It’s good to be informed regarding current topics and we’re not saying that you should stay away from all news, but try not to go down any rabbit holes when it comes to the Internet. Instead, try going outside and reconnecting with the beauty of nature. Believe us, there is still some, and it’s great.

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