It’s hard to look at the world around us and not feel a little anxious. In the first months of 2020 alone, the U.S. and Iran have come to the brink of a (literal) World War 3, Cats came out, whatever the fuck Cats is, and Australia has been hit by some of the worst bushfires in history.
According to the Climate Council, the catastrophic natural disasters currently ravaging the country have been directly exacerbated by climate change. For many Australians, these bushfires have been a watershed moment which has woken up many to the extent and consequences of global warming.
And, as we’ve been told over and over again, climate change is neither new nor shocking – we’ve known about climate change for decades and consistent inaction on the part of governments has been the subject of scrutiny for just as long. It’s enough to drive you mad! Mad enough to go and watch Cats again! (Okay, maybe not that mad?)
But although creeping fear of climate change and catastrophic damage to our planet might feel ‘mad,’ there is actually a very real, very normal explanation behind those feelings: eco-anxiety.
The American Psychological Association defines eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. Charming. It’s a feeling many of us have, as demonstrated by the unprecedented turnout at climate protests across the country in 2019 and 2020.
“I think it’s almost impossible to be a human being that believes in climate change and not experience eco-anxiety to some extent,” Jess Tran confesses. Jess, a Senior Partnerships Manager at Intrepid Travel and sustainability queen who demonstrates how it’s possible to thrive while still giving a shit about the planet.
“The best way to combat eco-anxiety is to take action and responsibility for the things that are within your control, and contextualize/educate yourself on the things that are not. I saw a really great Instagram post lately that said ‘Don’t be sad, be active!’. Everyone can do their bit to be educated and to take action.”
Check out Jess’ top tips for thrifting clothes.
It’s important to keep up to date with environmental and political happenings but even if you’re totally across everything (or maybe because you’re totally across everything) it’s still fucking scary. But that’s not entirely a bad thing.
What do the experts say?
Dr Tim Sharp, founder of The Happiness Institute, explains that eco-anxiety is an entirely rational response to what are quite worrying times.
“A certain amount of anxiety and concern about the very real climate related issues is normal and appropriate; but like any form of anxiety, if or when it has a significant impact on your ability to function in the world, to study or to work for example, then taking action and even seeking professional help would definitely be recommended.”
The sheer impact of climate change, future and current, can be incredibly daunting, but the key is to keep things in perspective, says Dr Sharp.
“The mainstream media tends to focus predominately on extreme negatives, in any story; but as bad as some of the environmental issues are, there are also lots of good stories. There are good people doing good work; cleaning oceans and saving animals and working to improve energy efficiency and cleanliness. Make an active effort to seek out these positive stories and share them as much as you can with others.”
Using and channelling that anxiety into action, no matter how small, and not allowing it to consume you, is another helpful technique.
“We can use our distress to motivate us to take more positive action. Can you consume less; recycle more; share rather than buy; or change your diet? Every little bit helps; especially if you join with friends or like-minded others. Together, we can all make a difference.”
“You can only save the world if you first save yourself,” Dr Sharp relates.
“Don’t allow the negativity to overwhelm you. This achieves nothing and helps no one.”
And lastly, although things may seem hopeless at times, perseverance is key.
“Don’t give up. Again, even if you can only make a small contribution remember, always, that many small contributions can and will make a big difference.”
Jess says, “You can always inspire the people around you with your own behaviours – even if it’s just one person!”
Eco-anxiety’s pretty heavy stuff, so here’s 3 easy things you can do to feel better (almost) immediately.
Log tf off. Seriously, the news can be a bummer. Dr Sharp recommends that you “don’t scroll social media and negative news endlessly.” Or to paraphrase Tyler, the Creator: “Just Walk Away From The Screen Like… Close Your Eyes Haha” (pretty good advice ngl).
Talk to someone. Like any sort of anxiety, the easiest way to feel better is to share your concerns. Talk to your friends, your mum, the neighbourhood cat, a counsellor, or maybe that cutie who’s DMs you want to slide into. These are all good options.
Go for a walk. Going for a quick walk or jog, especially in nature, is a great way to clear your head and do your body some good.
As Dr Sharp suggests, one of the best ways of dealing with eco-anxiety is channelling some of those feelings of helplessness into positive, tangible change. Here (LINK) is 10 easy steps you can take right now to help the planet.
Still feeling really shit? Consider checking out BeyondBlue if you want some professional help.
Lead image by Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images.