I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the news about the environment has got you feeling some anxiety lately.
Raising fully functional human beings is hard enough without feeling like we’re on the verge of an environmental apocalypse all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.
According to the American Psychological Association, my frequent feelings of anxiety, stress, and despair over the state of our planet is called eco anxiety, and over the last year, I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with it.
A task easier said than done.
First, I have to acknowledge how protected my family and I actually are. There are people the world over who are directly impacted by natural disasters made worse by climate change. I recognize that the folks suffering the most because of environmental degradation are predominantly poor, of color, or indigenous. I am so lucky to live where I do because my chances of experiencing a trauma like a hurricane, wildfire, or a refugee crisis aggravated by a warming planet are small.
That doesn’t mean that watching traumatic events occur from afar along with watching the slower unfolding of the damage we’re doing to our planet daily doesn’t also take a mental toll. I worry a lot. As a parent, I worry about the future for my daughters, their own families, and the generations to come. What will happen? What can we do? What if we’re too late to do anything? I mean, what does it matter if my youngest can read her watch when the doomsday clock is literally ticking down?
This is the danger of eco anxiety: paralyzing fear. If we think the planet is just doomed to die, then what’s the point of doing anything?
This isn’t really an option though. We want our kids to learn to clean up their messes, to take responsibility for the mistakes they make, right? I’ve always thought the same should apply to all of us when it comes to the planet. And while we need politicians to demonstrate leadership while addressing global warming, there are things we can do to make a difference beyond recycling and changing light bulbs (though those are good too).
Build on the things you already do well
When feeling overwhelmed, remembering the things you already do can help:
- Are you religious about carrying your reusable grocery bags? Try carrying reusable produce bags too.
- Are you already a champion recycler? Start composting with your kids.
- Do you carry your reusable water bottle everywhere? Invest in some stainless steel straws to carry in your bag for your kids and go straw free.
- Are you a minimalist mom? Can you help your kids become minimalists too?
- Already writing letters to your legislators about environmental issues? Write a letter to a company asking them to cut back on their plastic packaging.
Whatever it is you already do to help make the planet better, keep doing it but challenge yourself to do at least one thing more.
Connect with others
Change is hard. Trying to make changes when the polar ice caps are melting at a record rate just seems futile, doesn’t it? Make friends. They’ll help you commit to the changes you want to make or at least commiserate with you. Think of the power of peer pressure, and look for a group of peers that will help you get better at thinking and doing things for the planet.
We joined Mother Up last year to help keep ourselves motivated and educated about what actions we can take as a family to help address climate change. Each month, we meet with other like-minded families to eat together and learn from one another about more sustainable choices. As the environmental news gets worse and worse, it’s these connections with others that help keep my eco anxiety in check.
Mourn for the destruction of the planet, but do it outside
When I was in college, my roommate told me that the polar bears will likely go extinct in my lifetime. I didn’t want to believe her then, but today I have to admit she is probably right. This is horrible.
On the remote Midway island in the Pacific Ocean, just about as far away from humanity as you can get, albatross carry five tons of plastic onto the island each year. They are dying.
I could go on and on, but I don’t want you to give up reading this article. The pain is real. It’s devastating. It’s almost more than I can bear sometimes, and I know I’m not alone feeling this way.
Just what are we supposed to do we do with all of this heartbreak? We mourn. We grieve. We let ourselves cry and get really, really angry sometimes.
So go ahead and let yourself feel all the pain and eco angst of what we as a species have done. Just do it outside.
Why outside? If you’re outside, if you’re feeling the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, then you can’t disengage entirely. You can mourn what’s lost, but you can also still see what remains. When you remain engaged in nature, it’s that much easier to keep fighting the good fight.
Educate your kids
This was not actually on the list of lifestyle choices that researchers determined make a big difference on climate change, but I think it matters. If we’re going to make a difference in this fight to save the planet, we’re all going to have to make big and small changes in how we live. When I’m at my most anxious about our collective future, knowing I do have some control, and that I can do something is helpful.
Educating our kids about the lifestyle choices they can make in the future that will have the biggest positive impact on our planet helps us expand our impact. So, talk to your kids today about the choices you make and why. Teach them to resist being part of throwaway culture.
The reality is that we can’t stay in a constant state of threat about the planet and still be healthy. But at the same time, we must think about a sustainable future for our kids. We have to find ways to manage our eco angst and channel that energy into being productive. Stay tuned for more ideas on big changes you can make in Part II of this series!
Thanks for your article. I am truly paralyzed with eco anxiety. I live in Lower Mainland, BC, Canada and since my son was born I have been watching my eco anxiety worsen with every day. I work full time and am a full time parent at home with little extra time in the day to do anything. We do recycle, compost, buy less, get less packaging or none at all. The gas furnace is rarely on if ever. We walk when we can. With my job we are prohibited from lobbying but I do it anyway. I feel like it is taking it’s toll on me physically and mentally. My husband thinks I’m being silly. I am looking for a counsellor but am stuck because the closest one I can find is a 45 minute car ride away. Some days are worse than others. I feel angry with my wasteful neighbors who all drive full sized trucks to highway commute to their city jobs and little else. I’m disgusted by people and their conscious ignorance to this crisis. The only reason I get up in the morning now and function normally is for my son. This is probably the most paralyzed I have ever been in my life. I can push things aside for the most part when I am at the office during the day and just stay focussed on my task at hand. At night is the worst or when I am away from my son for too long. My mom had depression and anxiety but I never showed signs of mental illness before now and I am now in my forties. I am very conscious of this eco anxiety and have some background in mental health so have a lot of insight into what is happening to me. I believe I can do more personally and hoping to push past the resulting depression to get motivated to make more changes. Good luck to you and just wanted you to know I enjoyed your blog except for the polar bears and albatross info, which was bloody awful.