Understanding Eco-anxiety

  • Do you have a feeling of hopelessness about the world’s willingness and ability to tackle climate change and biodiversity extinction?

  • Do you feel helpless yourself in your own actions? What’s the point?

  • Do you fear for future generations?

  • Is this anxiety affecting all aspects of your life, your motivation to do things, to interact with friends and family?

Then you may well be suffering from eco-anxiety - a fear that something bad is going to happen, not just to you, but to the world and that you (and the world) won’t be able to cope.

Or, more succinctly, a ‘chronic fear of environmental doom’.

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But as with other forms of anxiety, it is not hopeless and you are not helpless; you can re-frame the way you approach the problems of climate change and environmental degradation. It doesn’t mean the environmental crisis doesn’t exist - it does - but you can change the way you interpret it and the way it influences the way you live now and in the future.

The terminology of eco-anxiety is a relatively recent addition to the wide-ranging categories of anxiety, but in essence it is no different - it is still, at its root, a ‘fear that something bad is going to happen and you won’t be able to cope’. The American Psychological Association published a report [1] on mental health and climate in 2017, highlighting some of the wide ranging issues people experience across the globe as a consequence of climate change, from mental health effects after floods or droughts, to fears about the future and feelings of helplessness and depression.

I’m rather uniquely placed to help you deal with eco-anxiety. Having spent over 30 years working in the environmental field - including having been a Lecturer in Biogeography and Applied Climatic Studies, an environmental NGO campaigner, and now still part-time an academic and consultant working in environmental policy and long-term futures thinking - I do know quite a bit about the ‘eco’ part as well as the ‘anxiety’. And recently I’ve seen increasing numbers of people presenting with these concerns, especially among students and young professionals as their environmental awareness grows. But I have also been able to provide successful treatment to enable them to approach these issues in a more meaningful and helpful way. With eco-anxiety, we can use many of the techniques we use with other forms of anxiety - mindfulness, relaxation, imaginal rehearsal in hypnosis, understanding thinking errors, among others - to change the way it impacts upon your life; not making it less important to you, but by bringing perspective and a recognition that your worrying about the situation - and often a hyper-awareness to apparent signals of disaster - may well be what is maintaining and exacerbating the anxiety. It has, in effect, become a rather dysfunctional coping strategy, even while it may feel as though at least, by worrying, you are doing something, and it shows you care.

So if this resonates, do reach out and seek some help - if it all seems overwhelming, be aware that it doesn’t have to be.

Bill Sheate, 5 June 2019

Reference:

[1] American Psychological Association and others (2017), Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications and Guidance