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If you find yourself growing uneasy at thoughts of our planet’s future, you aren’t alone. According to recent studies, nearly 70% of adults experience at least some worries about climate change and its effects. In fact, it’s caused us to coin the term eco anxiety. Eco anxiety is stress caused by the prospect of environmental harm, climate change or ecological disaster.
But what can one person possibly do to make a difference on a planet of billions? When you start experiencing helplessness at the thought of smoggy cityscapes, over development, displaced animals and burning forests, you may be experiencing symptoms of eco anxiety. So, it’s time to find ways to cope. Here are a few self-care tips to restore your sense of well-being.
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Give Yourself Permission
Grieving the loss of anything is an important facet of emotional health. Stuffing your feelings is toxic for both your body and mind. So when something is sad, it’s healthy to acknowledge that it’s sad.
Eco anxiety may be emerging if you experience feelings of loss at the knowledge that you’ll never witness the Great Barrier Reef in its formal vibrant glory. That there’s a garbage patch twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific. Or that each new century knocks more species off our global list. You have every right to be bothered.
Soaking yourself in bleak feelings of eco anxiety for too long can be crippling. Instead, do something about them! Move from that place of grief to a place of action.
When it comes to green living, consider the typical standbys: biking to work, recycling, conserving water and electricity. There are also countless ways to reduce the waste flooding into our landfills. Choosing biodegradable products over plastic ones or donating castoff clothes and couches to give them a second life. You might try something as simple as swapping out tea bags for loose tea leaves and a stainless-steel tea ball. Or fixing rather than replacing big items like your widescreen television or washing machine.
Naturally, it’s going to take more than your individual efforts to make the environmental change you want to see in the world. In fact, it’s going to take a multitude of communities from around the globe. So let other people know why environmental issues are a concern and suggest tangible ways they can join in the mission.
But do so gently. There’s no quicker way to trigger defense mode and raise mental walls than to waggle a figurative finger in someone’s face. So if you want to promote a teachable attitude in those around you, ditch the lecture and lead by example instead. As you share your personal journey of discovery and explain why you take the actions you do, watch as others are inspired to do likewise.
Get Out There and Appreciate Nature
Sometimes we also need to remind ourselves why we do what we do for the environment. So take the time to engage with nature by soaking in the details. The next time your neighborhood birds start serenading each other, tune into the performance. And when colorful clusters of flowers crop up across your backyard, appreciate them as the miniature masterpieces they truly are. What’s more, mental health experts have found outdoor activities to be therapeutic, so this little exercise benefits you in more ways than one.
When eco anxiety strikes, acknowledge those concerns, but don’t let them incapacitate you. There’s still so much life on this green planet of ours and it’s certainly not past saving.
If you are experiencing prolonged periods of anxiety and/or depression, please seek professional help.
This article originally appeared in our Summer 2021 print issue.
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Johanna Harlow is an arts and culture journalist for several publications. She enjoys dipping her toes into worlds different from her own by interviewing everyone from cinematographers to photographers, architects to actors, lyricists to muralists. She is also a screenwriter and lives in California’s sunny Bay Area.
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