Don’t let worrying about climate change damage your health.
With the International Day of Happiness on 20th March just around the corner, you’d be forgiven for struggling to find things to be happy about. On the face of it, the world is in turmoil, and increasingly stark warnings from climate scientists about the future of the planet are doing nothing to help matters.
Indeed, as the BBC reports, this eco-anxiety, or climate fear as some call it, is having a profoundly negative impact on our lives. Many people report being unable to look forward to the future for fear of the effects of climate change. Some are even basing major life decisions – such as having children – around it.
Of course, on one hand, this anxiety can be a positive catalyst for change – people concerned about the future of the planet are more likely to take action to protect it. On the other hand, however, fear is a very damaging emotion, and its negative effects should not be underestimated. Yes, it’s important that we heed credible warnings about our relationship with the environment, but not at the expense of our mental health.
So if you find yourself feeling anxious, worried or panicked about the climate crisis, consider the tips below.
- Banish all-or-nothing thinking
It’s certainly the case that living in alignment with your values will help negate eco-anxiety to some extent – feeling as if you’re part of the solution can be a heartening motivator. But remember, nobody can live a thoroughly and completely sustainable lifestyle. Sometimes you will have to take the car, buy a plastic-wrapped lettuce or run the washing machine three times in one day. That’s life, and you can’t beat yourself up about it. It’s far better to have many people doing sustainability imperfectly, than just a few people doing it perfectly.
- Focus on changing systems, not yourself
For many, eco-anxiety will have them bending over backwards in pursuit of a completely sustainable lifestyle (see above) and indeed, taking individual positive action is important. However, the biggest impacts will always be had in changing wider damaging systems. Attend protests, sign petitions, work with others to lobby governments and write to your local MP to demand action on the climate crisis. These actions can have far-reaching outcomes.
- Protest with your purchases
Another way to meaningfully change the system is to support companies and brands whose values align with your own. There are sustainable alternatives for everything, from food and fashion to cars and bank accounts. Vote with your wallet and feel good about your impact on the world, knowing it’s supporting positive change rather than contributing to its decline.
- Find likeminded people
Joining climate-focused community and action groups can be a huge help with feelings of anxiety and despair. The sense of shared belonging and concern that comes from being part of such a community can be very comforting, and working towards tangible solutions with others can give you a greater sense of control in otherwise overwhelming circumstances.
- Curate your sphere of influence
Social media has a lot to answer for, and the effect it can have on our mood is enormous. Just as a constant bombardment of size 8 models with flawless skin parading around tropical islands is going to make you feel lousy, so too is exposure to a barrage of scary statistics and gloomy predictions. But it’s important to stay informed and in the loop, so instead, follow accounts that offer a positive, solutions-based outlook on the climate crisis. @zero.waste.collective, @thegreenhub_ and @lowimpactmovement are great places to start.
- Seek out good news
It’s not all doom and gloom. Pay attention to more positive climate stories as a reminder that change is possible. For example, in 2019 we went two whole weeks without using coal to generate electricity, and for the first time renewables generated more electricity than fossil fuels. Demand for electricity is also starting to decline.
- Accept your feelings
Finally, recognise that your feelings are completely reasonable and necessary, and instead of pushing the unpleasantness of them away, take the time to sit with uncertainty. Many aspects of our modern lives are governed by safety and security – the future of the planet, sadly, is not one of them. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help us make peace with this uncertainty while keeping us focused on the here and now, and the things we can do, rather than all the what-ifs there are to worry about.
The bottom line
Eco-anxiety is a natural consequence of an increasingly gloomy-looking climate forecast, but it’s important that we don’t let it overwhelm us – not while there’s still important climate-saving work to be done!
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