Eco-Anxiety: What It Is And How To Cope With It

As a general rule, life has its fair share of a-ha moments. Sometimes, they’re brilliant realizations that instantly make us feel better, showing us the path forward. Other times, however, they can be downright depressing.

Coming to terms with our consumerist habits and their negative implications for the world around us can be one of those not-so-great realization moments. And, if you’re anything like me, they might give you a bad case of eco-anxiety.

So, whether you’re trying to wrap your head around your carbon footprint, worrying about where this world is going, or simply need to stop yourself from working yourself up over the things you can’t control, here’s everything you need to know about eco-anxiety and what you can do about it.

Defining Eco-Anxiety

The first time anyone used the term eco-anxiety was in 2017. It was when the American Psychological Association released a report titled “Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance.”

This document defined eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” It found that as many as 49% of the people living in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina experienced such a mood disorder and that one in six of the same people suffered from PTSD.

And things seem to be getting worse (as the world struggles to make genuinely impactful changes on a global level).

According to a 2020 Washington Post poll, 57% of American teenagers said that climate change scared them. Moreover, as many as 52% stated that it made them angry.

But what does eco-anxiety look like in the real world? Is it really such an impactful psychological condition? Or is it a driving force we could use to stop climate change?

The Symptoms

One of the most important things we must understand about eco-anxiety as a condition is that it’s not the same as a clinical anxiety disorder. Nonetheless, despite not being recognized as a mental health issue, it can still cause significant problems to a person’s wellbeing.

Most often, eco-anxiety manifests as a feeling of helplessness. It can also take the shape of anger, fatalistic thinking, or guilt and shame over our carbon footprint. When it gets out of hand, it can have effects similar to PTSD. Sometimes, it can cause depression or panic attacks. In other instances, it may lead to obsessive thinking or physical outcomes like sleep problems and appetite changes.

How to Cope

The most challenging part of living with eco-anxiety isn’t the issue of identifying the state. More often than not, it’s actually coping with its implications.

The simple fact is, climate change is here. And it’s most likely to remain a big part of everyone’s lives (whether they’re ready to admit it or not). And no matter how committed we are to reducing our carbon footprint, we will never be able to do enough to fully reverse it. For that to happen, society as a whole will have to make some significant changes.

But that doesn’t mean we should give in to the sense of dread. Or even work ourselves to the bone trying to right the world’s wrongs.

Instead, it means we must find the best possible ways we can contribute to making the world a better place.

Making Personal Behavior Changes

One of the most obvious paths to combating climate change (and our eco-anxiety) is to identify the areas of our life where we can make ecological improvements.

For example, we can always adopt small but impactful habits. We can do our best to conserve energy at home, learn about the ecological impact of different materials, modify our diets, or alter our ways of commuting.

Moreover, we can choose to learn as much as we can (from reputable sources) and share that knowledge with the people around us.

For example, social media apps have shown to be great platforms for battling climate change. On them, there’s an increasing number of users addressing ecological topics, bringing prevalent issues closer even to those who thought eco-friendly living had no impact on them whatsoever.

Using Our Voice (and Money) to Drive Change

The second and perhaps more impactful thing we can do about ecological issues that hit close to home is to think about ways to contribute on a larger scale.

For example, we can contact our elected representatives regarding ecological issues we feel passionate about. Or, we can join a local community that has the opportunity to act on a bigger scale than individuals.

We can even help prevent pollution by being mindful of where we spend our money, ensuring that we always opt for eco-friendly products.

Understanding the Limitations of Individual Efforts

Finally, the last step of overcoming eco-anxiety is to remind ourselves that the question of climate change isn’t something that can be solved by individual efforts.

Yes, anyone can make a difference, no matter how small. And if everyone on the planet made even the tiniest change in their lives, it would amount to a great deal.

But we must also remember that climate change is a political issue. And that means that the biggest results depend on world leaders, corporations, and entire industries.

So, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your inability to do enough, it’s not a bad idea to remember that there are many, many more players in this game we’re all part of. And, if that doesn’t help, then know that it’s OK to reach out for help.

After all, you’re not alone on this rock we all call home. And having someone to express your concerns to might just help you identify the things you can and can’t control. Or, it may give you your next Eureka moment and lead you to a breakthrough solution that will put a stop to climate change once and for all.