Are you finding yourself worried about Climate Change but unsure of what to do about it?

Do you slam your laptop shut at the sight of dire headlines warning of impending catastrophe? Are you starting to see the signs of climate disaster around you but feel helpless as just one individual?  This relatively new phenomenon has been dubbed “Eco-Anxiety” and many of us are feeling its cold tendrils start to creep around our necks.

Eco-Anxiety is based on fear of real, true and probable outcomes for our planet, so it differs from some forms of anxiety that may not point to such proven truths.  However, those prone to anxiety are more likely to experience Eco-Anxiety as well.

So, how do you combat Eco-Anxiety if you’re not head of an environmental non-profit or a government policy maker? And how do you combat Eco-Anxiety without spinning out of control?  While not a solution to Climate Change, there are ways to manage anxiety about our precious planet.

1. Educate yourself (within reason)

Rather than fearing the catastrophic headlines, read the reports.  Get current on the latest climate science.  While this step can be scary, knowledge really is power, and once you understand the current thinking on what we are up against, you can make concrete plans for what you want to personally do to combat the problem.

 

2. Do what you can personally (without driving yourself crazy)

You recycle, you compost, you use reusable grocery bags.  You’re already living an eco-friendly life, right?  Chances are, whatever you are already doing, you can add a few more conscious steps toward a green lifestyle.  If you fly for business, can you replace some flights with video calls?

Can you walk or take public transportation to the grocery store? Can you switch your electric utilities plan to one that pulls power from sustainable energy sources? Can you reduce your meat intake by a few meals per week?  The list really does go on and on.

While individual efforts will not stop Climate Change, every little bit does help, and it can give you a sense of purpose and, hopefully, calm.  A helpful list of ways to personally reduce your carbon footprint can be found here.

 

3. Choose a cause with which to become active—then do it

Since we know that individual life changes help but will not reverse Climate Change, getting involved on a bigger level can really help quell that nagging anxiety, in addition to the main purpose, fighting Climate Change.  Getting involved on a systemic level is important to combat that “drop in the bucket” feeling we can get from our small personal efforts.  This list of worthwhile organizations is a great place to start.

 

4. Find a like-minded group with which to get active (and lament)

This step is often linked to the previous step. Once you get involved with a cause, you will meet people who hold similar beliefs (and likely fears) to you. But your group doesn’t have to be only about activism. Sharing worries, thoughts about solutions and even gallows humor can be empowering and soul soothing. After a march or phone bank session, gather your compadres for a hike in the woods or a warm meal to decompress. You might be surprised at the results.

 

5. Disengage from the news when necessary

This step may seem to run counter to step one, but, one of the biggest contributing factors to Eco-Anxiety can be the constant barrage of disheartening news.  When you see a headline pop up on your computer when you were simply trying to look at your aunt’s vacation photos,  turn off the computer and go for a walk, or get back to that report you were supposed to be writing.

When you’re driving and you hear a doom and gloom climate story begin—switch to some music that makes you happy and rock out instead.  Remind yourself that you know what you need to know and you don’t need to think about it 24/7.  This too can help combat Eco-Anxiety.

 

6. Develop an Eco-Anxiety “mantra”

Even while practicing the above steps, Eco-Anxiety can affect us.  These are challenging times with no clear road map.  When you start to find yourself spinning, it can be helpful to have a simple phrase to repeat to yourself, in order to get grounded and focus. For example: “Look at the issue. Feel the feelings. Get to work.”

 

About the Author

Jill Hartman is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist (AMFT) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. In her words, “I am empathetic and compassionate, while not shying away from being direct. I am an observer, a questioner, and an active listener.”

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