What is Eco-Anxiety and How to Manage it
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What is Eco-Anxiety and How to Manage it

Are you feeling increasingly overwhelmed about climate change? Perhaps you’re experiencing an intense fear surrounding the future of our planet? Or anxiety about the damage that has already been done? A sense of hopelessness, guilt, shame or anger? Well, you may be experiencing what is known as eco-anxiety.

Although eco-anxiety is a relatively new term, it is a reality for many around the world. Luckily, there are several ways to deal with your eco-anxiety, all of which will be covered in this blog post. We’re going to be looking at what eco-anxiety is, what the causes are, who it affects, and some useful tips on how to manage it!

What is Eco-Anxiety?

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Being a relatively recent concept, eco-anxiety has been defined in different ways. The American Psychological Association defined it as a chronic fear of environmental doom. It can also be described as a persistent anxiety about the future of our planet and the life it sustains [2]. Eco-anxiety also exists under the terms; climate anxiety, eco-trauma and ecological grief, all of which involve symptoms beyond just anxiety. Eco-anxiety can cause both acute and chronic stress, which can manifest in the form of mental, physical and community health. Examples include [3]:

  Trauma, shock and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). You may have experienced the traumatic effects of climate change, such as a hurricane or the destruction of your home.  

  Compounded stress

  Strain in interpersonal relationships

  Depression and Anxiety

  Suicidal Ideation

  Aggression. Particularly towards people who disregard the existence of climate change or refuse to take action.

  Loss of motivation, identity or autonomy. The large scale on which climate change exists can make you feel as though your contribution won’t make much of a difference

    Fatalistic thinking. After a while, you may feel like giving up and start to believe that there is nothing that can be done to change the current situation. 

Many surveys and research studies have been carried out in recent years. They have shown that eco-anxiety disproportionately impacts children and young people. A study conducted in 2020 showed that 57% of young people (16-25 years old) in the UK are increasingly concerned with climate change [4].

An international survey on climate anxiety gathered from countries including the UK, Australia, Finland, Brazil, India, Nigeria, France, and the United States showed similar results. When asked whether the future is frightening, 75% answered yes (72% UK). When asked whether people have failed to care for the planet, 83% agreed globally (80% UK) [5].

What is Eco-Anxiety and How to Manage it - Enviroment

Who does Eco-Anxiety affect?

Of course, eco-anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of who or where you are. After all, we’re all living on the same planet. However, certain groups of people are more likely to be affected by climate-related anxieties. This is because these groups are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change itself [2] [6].

Vulnerable groups include:

    Indigenous communities

  People living in areas associated with high geological risk (coastal regions, dry areas)

  Communities with a lower socioeconomic status

  Children and elderly people

  People with chronic health problems or disabilities

  People with environment-based jobs (farmers, botanists, fishermen)

  Emergency healthcare workers 

In addition to this, high-risk communities are often also unable to access medical treatment or mental healthcare. So although anyone can experience eco-anxiety, there are clear differences in how environmental damage affects different people and communities. 

Another factor influencing the likelihood of experiencing eco-anxiety is individual differences, such as personality traits, ethical values, morality and cultural affinities. In this way, individuals who have an innate love for the environment or have high levels of empathy are more likely to experience eco-anxiety than others. For example, a research study showed that concern for climate change was in fact linked to personality traits of openness and conscientiousness [7].   

What is Eco-Anxiety and How to Manage it - Fish

What are the causes of Eco-Anxiety?

Countless news stories covering the latest impact on climate change each day, recurring posts on your social media feeds and even simply stepping outside can divert our attention to the looming climate crisis. These are just a few examples of how eco-anxiety can arise.

First-hand experience

Anxiety surrounding environmental issues can come about when you or a loved one experiences first-hand climate-related effects such as wildfires, droughts or hurricanes. Perhaps you’ve experienced the gradual climate effects yourself, such as rising temperatures. Whatever it may be, these incidents can create intense feelings of eco-anxiety.

Media coverage

Stories, images and video coverage of the devastating effects of climate change are undeniably a cause of eco-anxiety. Repeated exposure to the destruction of the climate crisis can become increasingly overwhelming and create feelings of fear or helplessness.

Your personal contribution

Although climate change is often considered a much larger problem, feelings of guilt and shame can arise when carrying out practices known to impact climate change. You may be using your AC, not recycling or eating a lot of meat. Of course, you can take the necessary steps to do your part in reducing your carbon footprint, but you alone cannot end climate change. This is likely to induce a feeling of powerlessness – a defining feature of eco-anxiety.

What is eco-anxiety and how to manage it - Infographic

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How to manage Eco-Anxiety

As we mentioned earlier, it is essential to remember that climate change is an environmental issue that is far too large for one person to take on. With this being said, there are various ways in which you can manage your eco-anxiety!

Take action

You may find that carrying out sustainable actions may work to reduce your eco-anxiety. This can include talking with others about sustainability, volunteering, recycling or eating less meat and dairy. You’re likely to feel a greater sense of agency and autonomy by constructing a plan.

Educate yourself

Being well informed is a great way to stay realistic about the climate crisis. You’re likely to feel more hopeful and prepared by taking in accurate, credible information. Other than reading books, watching documentaries and reading online articles, you might consider joining environment-based social media conversations, volunteering in your area or taking classes on sustainability at a local college or online.

Stay empowered

Although you might think that climate change is too big of an issue for one person to tackle, any significant societal change that has occurred in the past has always stemmed from the voice and action of one individual who really believed in the cause. Actively getting involved, doing what you can and recognising the power you hold is a great way to feel empowered. Empowerment is one of the best ways to beat negative thinking and deal with anxiety! Consider becoming an environmental advocate, connecting with like-minded people and educating your family and friends.

What is Eco-Anxiety and How to Manage it - Plastic

See a professional

You may feel as though eco-anxiety is taking over your life, in which case professional help may be needed. Consider exploring anxiety therapy, which can provide you with the space to talk about your concern related to the environment and help you manage your relationship with climate change and reduce the impact that anxiety has on your life.  

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Managing Eco-Anxiety with Anxiety Therapy

Although dealing with any form of anxiety can seem like an impossible task, you shouldn’t give up hope just yet. At Therapy Central, we use evidence-based interventions such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help individuals deal with their anxieties and get their life back on track. In this way, you’ll be able to discuss your climate anxiety with like-minded individuals who are equipped to provide you with the help you need and who also regard climate change as a serious issue.

Consider contacting one of our qualified anxiety therapists today and get a free 15 min consultation to see whether our help fits your needs.

More readings:

Anxiety Therapy in London or Online

Additional resources 

7 Resources to help you cope with Eco-Anxiety 

References:

[1] – https://www.apa.org/

[2] – https://www.healthline.com/

[3] – https://www.health.com/

[4] – https://www.theguardian.com/

[5] – https://www.bbc.com/

[6] – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/

[7] – https://naaee.org/

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