Eco-Anxiety and Methods to Manage
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Have you ever turned on the news and watched story after story of catastrophes happening around the planet? Does seeing all of those stories in quick succession every day leave you feeling tired, hopeless, or anxious about the future? I often flip through social media and am left feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. There is a sense of guilt when thinking of all of the plastics in my kitchen that may end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I also feel a sense of hopelessness when thinking of the future; where will we be in 20 years? If you feel this way, you are not alone; there are hundreds of thousands of individuals who experience eco-anxiety.
What is Eco-Anxiety?
The American Psychological Association defines eco-anxiety as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one’s future and that of next generations”. Bath University recently collaborated with five universities to conduct a survey across 10 countries concerning the anxiety surrounding the current environmental issues. A total of 10,000 individuals between the ages of 16 and 25 responded. About 60% responded that they were very worried or extremely worried about the climate, with more than 45% reporting that they had feelings about the climate that affected their daily lives (Marks et al., 2021).
There is not a single point source for this anxiety. Information regarding the environment is more readily available, especially to young people who have access to the internet. Many consume their news through social media platforms, where their recommended pages become flooded with more information about the environmental crisis. It is easy to get lost clicking from one devastating story to the next, with few offering solutions. This information is constantly available, and the way we talk about it seems to reflect that availability. For many of us, this feeling of anxiety is embedded in our daily lives in ways that are very different from previous generations. In an article by the Washington Post, Sarah Niles, an 18-year-old from Alabama, explained that these fears have become a part of her daily conversation: “I feel like in my peer group, you just go right from talking about polar bears dying to ‘Did you see what Maya posted on Snapchat?’ Nobody has a filter to adjust.”
Managing Your Eco-Anxiety
Like I said before, it is easy to get wrapped up in that anxiety and see no solution, but being wrapped in that guilt makes it difficult to enact change. Here are a few methods to manage eco-anxiety:
Know your enemy. Education is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to activism and maintaining your anxiety. The first step is recognizing the anxiety you feel and determining the sources. Beyond that, consuming information from reputable sources is important. It might seem easier to hide from the information to protect yourself, but in the long run, it can make your fears worse. Rather than passively gathering information from your socials, try actively gathering information directly from organizations and news sites.
Change your internet feeds. When you cannot avoid social media, try changing the feed yourself by consciously choosing what you see. The internet is not just an abundant source of devastating news; it is also a platform for millions of individuals to share their ideas, and those ideas include ways to help the environment. Sites like Pinterest contain thousands of eco-friendly tips and activities. Try joining an environmental Facebook group where you can share ideas and ask for help with new ones. The bright side to the cookies on these websites, is that once you begin looking at these posts, similar posts will be recommended.
Switch to more eco-friendly everyday habits. Little things you do every day can seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but when put together over a longer period of time, it can truly make a difference. You can time your showers, turn the sink off when you are brushing your teeth, use eco-friendly cleaning products, buy local foods, bring reusable bags to the grocery store, avoid eating out as much to reduce plastic waste, and recycle everything you can. There are so many ways you can make a difference in your everyday life, and sharing them with friends and family can expand that difference beyond yourself.
Get out of the house and into nature. It is easy to sink down into your couch and watch the crisis flash before you, but what can help is experiencing and appreciating the green spaces you have around you. Mathew P. White of the European Centre of Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter conducted a study of 20,000 people and found that individuals who spent a combined total of two hours per week in a green space were significantly more likely to report good physical and mental health than those who don’t. Over 1,000 studies have supported that time in nature can reduce stress by lowering blood pressure, stress hormones, and nervous system arousal.
Find like-minded people. One method to manage any anxiety surrounding the environment is to surround yourself with others who feel the same way. They are more likely to empathize with your anxieties and validate your feelings about the situation. These individuals may also help you enact the change you are looking for by working together on projects and sharing small, everyday habits that could help impact the environment in a positive way.
If you are experiencing extreme anxiety or depression please contact your local mental health professional or go to www.nimh.nih.gov for more resources. For more information and resources on this topic, please explore the list of resources.
Eco-anxiety: the psychological aftermath of the climate crisis. (n.d.). Iberdrola. https://www.iberdrola.com/social-commitment/what-is-ecoanxiety
Harrabin, R. (2021, September 14). Climate change: Young people very worried - survey. British Broadcasting Channel. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-58549373
Marks, E., Hickman, C., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, E., Mayall, E., Wray, B., Mellor, C., Susteren, L. (2021, September 7). Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal, and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon. Social Science Research Network. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3918955
Plautz, J. (2020, February 12). The Environmental Burden of Generation Z: Kids are terrified, anxious and depressed about climate change. Whose fault is that?. The Washington Post Magazine. https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/02/03/eco-anxiety-is-overwhelming-kids-wheres-line-between-education-alarmism/
Robbins, J. (2020, January 9). Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health. https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health
Schreiber, M. (2021, March 1). Addressing climate change concerns in practice: The planet is undergoing rapid and unprecedented climate change that is creating stress and mental anguish for people around the world. American Psychological Association, 52(2). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/03/ce-climate-change
White, M., Alcock, I., Grellier, J., Wheeler, B., Hartig, T., Warber, S., Bone, A., Depledge, M., and Fleming, L. (2019, June 13). Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports, 9(2019). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3
About the Author
Bri Hull is the Communications Associate at the Tallgrass Prairie Center. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Bri came to Iowa to attend Wartburg College. In her time in Iowa she developed an interest in environmental science and stayed to learn more about ways she can help her community. In her time with Green Iowa AmeriCorps, Bri hopes to learn how to become more green and how to reach out to her community to do the same.