Eco-anxiety the warning signs
It can be hard to figure out why we are feeling unwell at times; is it the stress of overworking, financial stress, or the lack of time we have for self-care?
Eco-anxiety can affect us in the same way as Cold War fear in the twentieth century; it is a cultural fear that is realistic and valid.
Feeling worried about the planet's future
Anticipatory anxiety is very common; it's the feeling of worry and stress we experience about a future event, such as a job interview, an encounter with a difficult person, or the outcome of a situation. In some cases, the anxiety motivates us to act; other times, we feel powerless with it.
Eco-anxiety is an extreme form of anticipatory anxiety; it is a future-based fear that exists in the present moment. While concern about the future based on rational analysis is helpful, eco-anxiety is likely to reduce life quality. The best response is present-moment awareness.
Feeling as though you are not doing enough
The human brain has a strong negative bias which can be helpful to some degree, but the negative visualisation must lead to positive outcomes. If you feel as though you are not doing enough for the planet or your carbon footprint is too high, it's time to focus on the positives. Reflecting on what you are doing helps to bring the brain into balance and grows positivity.
Feeling worried about your past choices
One day you are scrolling through your social media newsfeed, and you notice a post about plastic pollution and its devastating environmental impact; as you read it, you feel an overpowering sense of guilt and regret about the single-use plastic you have recently used.
While regret can lead to rumination and more anxiety, it can also be a helpful way for us to change our habits and adapt our lifestyles. Sometimes, regret is the psyche's way of stimulating positive change, so if you feel continually regretful about plastic use, it might be time to switch.
Ruminating on internet newsfeeds
A brain is a problem-solving machine, among other things, and while this is good news for solving the daily Wordle puzzles, it can be unhelpful in the face of climate catastrophe. When the mind is stuck in problem-solving mode, you might start looking for answers obsessively.
If you find that you are scrolling your social media newsfeeds for the latest information on the climate crisis and it is affecting your quality of life, it is a warning sign of eco-anxiety. Notice that you are becoming stuck in a pattern and set some limits on your daily consumption of eco news.
Feeling paralysed by existential dread
Eco-anxiety can be compared to Cold War anxiety in previous generations; it’s a real fear about the future of life on the planet, coupled with a feeling of powerlessness in the face of it. Again, the feeling of paralysis is a warning sign of eco-anxiety, and the best response is to notice the underlying fear and respond with emotional resilience, perhaps by contributing to a collective.
How to respond to eco-anxiety symptoms
Now you have some warning signs to look out for; you need to know what action you can take to alleviate the symptoms. Anxiety is uncomfortable, but it is very common. The good news is that many forms of anxiety can be treated in a variety of ways that don't require any medication.
Discover your personal power to take action
Eco-anxiety is an arresting experience that can make us feel powerless in the face of the challenge presented to us; there is little we can do about the wheels of industry or the decisions made by politicians, and this only serves to fuel the sense of paralysis that is gripping us.
In reality, we have mountains of personal power to discover and express in the world, and even small things can make a huge difference. Find your core values and live them more truthfully, calculate your carbon shadow and make lifestyle changes; you are not the only one doing this.
Learn to build up your emotional resilience
Emotional resilience is someone's ability to handle stressful situations with integrity, so while feelings of anxiety can arise due to the climate crisis, they don’t have to derail everyday life. There is a difference between pain and suffering - see parable of the arrow. This shows there might be little we can do about our pain for the planet, but we have agency over suffering.
Find a climate community and connect with them
There are many ways to find solidarity in the world; one of them is to live our values and thereby connect with others in the world with the same ethics; this is like linking up with a community of engaged people. Another way is to find some people who are dealing with eco-anxiety to connect with.
If you are feeling eco-anxious, you are not alone; there are people all around you with the same concerns, so why not join a local group online through The Surefoot Effect, a local allotment project, or trash collecting? Connecting with like-minded people can improve your wellbeing.
Open up the topic of realistic climate concerns
Fear is a feeling, but it can become a distressing emotional state when it goes unexpressed. Climate anxiety is like this; it develops internally and festers because it does not have an outlet for expression. Talking about climate fears to a friend, therapist, or working on projects with local community members gives expression to the fear and validates the concerns you have when you feel you are listened to.
Practice mindfulness and nature appreciation
Mindfulness can alleviate the suffering caused by climate concerns; it can also help us to create emotional resilience and strength to address the challenges in our personal lives and in the wider world. Mindfulness is very easy to learn and practice; start by noticing the body breathing.
Nature appreciation is also helpful. Whether you travel to a local country park for some forest bathing or simply appreciate the music of bird song in the garden, you are reminding yourself of the joys and pleasures to be found in nature and in being alive. It is this we are trying to protect.
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