I was in attendance at a press conference recently when I first heard the term “eco-anxiety.”
The physician on stage told the stories of the Inuit communities she’s worked with, who have been witnessing, and living with, the effects of global warming and climate change for years.
I remember feeling a sense of relief — there were people out there suffering from the same worry about climate change as I was.
It is a very real thing
Turns out there are many ways to describe this condition, be it “eco-anxiety,” “climate anxiety,” or “climate despair. Whatever you want to call it, there is no denying that it is real.
No, there is no official clinical definition for it yet, but it is not surprising that the phenomenon is on the rise considering the collective, growing awareness of the environmental crisis we are facing.
Personally, my mind started imagining climate change’s worst scenarios nearly a decade ago. I remember watching Superstorm Sandy wreak havoc on New York City in 2012 like it was yesterday.
I sat there in shock and disbelief, staring at the images of the storm’s aftermath on my television.
It hit too close to home (literally and figuratively)
At least 53 people were killed in NYC alone, as a result of the storm. Major hospitals were evacuated and shut down, hundreds of thousands of homes and vehicles were destroyed, and economic losses were registered in the billions.
A profound sense of fear and despair washed over me. Something told me that the world would be seeing a lot more of these kinds of intense storms in the future — and I was right.
At first, I was angry
I felt guilty and I felt scared. My anxiety was soaring high.
I was angry because in my mind, too many people were actively denying that climate change was real and it felt as though no one was taking the threat seriously. I felt guilty because I was part of the problem and I felt scared of the unknown.
All these questions were coming up: Is climate change even real? If it is, how is it going to affect my future and that of my loved-ones? Is climate change a good reason not to have children? I had none of the answers to any of these questions and I felt totally hopeless.
Luckily, my late mother raised me to be a warrior
Life has taught me the importance of confronting uncomfortable issues head on, instead of ignoring them in hopes that they will go away––because they never do.
Pretending climate change is not a real threat is not an option for me. If you too have been feeling anxious about climate change, you’re not alone. There are ways to cope and to channel your worry into action.
Here are some ways to cope with eco-anxiety:
1. Acknowledge, accept, and talk about your feelings
Ignoring negative emotions is easy. Unfortunately for most of us, it has become second nature, to our detriment.
Feeling scared? Angry? Worried? Sit with it. Avoiding uncomfortable emotions only make things worse in the long-run. Instead of suppressing your fear, worry and/or anger, allow yourself to feel it. It’s normal to feel these emotions, it comes with being human.
Get curious about how you’re feeling: explore your emotions, write them out, and be open to what they’re trying to teach you. Talk about how you’re feeling with people you trust. Sharing is a good way to release tension.
2. Mourn the loss
Much like “eco-anxiety” is real, so is “ecological grief”, and with grief comes mourning. Take all the time you need to process any and all feelings of loss you may be experiencing. Whether you’ve been directly impacted and lost your home or pet, or find yourself grieving the future you envisioned for your children, grief is no joke and it needs to be embraced (rather than suppressed) so that you can move forward.
3. Empower yourself by turning negative feelings into positive action
Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted your feelings and the anxiety they’ve stirred up, you can start channelling them into action. The first step here is to identify what you can do and to zero in on your interests. Yes, the fight against climate change is unprecedented, but I’m a firm believer that there is hope in action — no matter how small.
For instance, if you love to travel, you might want to consider taking fewer planes to get around. If you love the ocean, you could volunteer to remove trash from your area’s beaches and waterways. If you’re into investing, make sure you’re putting money into companies that divest from fossil fuels.
No matter how big or small, these actions add up.
At the end of the day, I’m not encouraging you to simply get rid of the anxiety. Instead, I challenge you to make it easier to deal with by using it as motivation for change. We’re all in this together.