In its March 2017 paper, “Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications and Guidance,” the American Psychological Association defines ecoanxiety as “A chronic fear of environmental doom.”
If you read the news at all or scroll through Instagram and Twitter or live in an area affected by climate change (i.e., the planet), I don’t know how you cannot feel anxious about the state of our home and the future of all of its inhabitants. I hope the coping strategies below help. While alleviating the anxiety, many of them also help reduce the carbon emissions that have created the source of that anxiety—climate change.
1. Do something
If you’re like me at all, taking action to combat climate change will help you retain your sanity. Choose one step you can take now to reduce your carbon footprint—eat lower on the food chain, take public transportation, divest from fossil fuels, reduce your plastic consumption or volunteer at an environmental organization. Next, take another step. Repeat. Keep going.
At the same time, remember to take care of yourself. Don’t let your activism—which does not garner results overnight—lead to burnout.
2. Do nothing
Cramming non-stop activities into our days, multitasking from the moment we open our eyes in the morning until the moment we collapse into our beds at night, eating fast food because we have no time for anything else, working long hours for months at a time without a vacation—why, just writing that list raised my blood pressure! This go-go lifestyle would not be possible without convenience foods, the industrial food system that produces them and the plastic that packages them.
The Slow Food Movement, on the other hand, the first of the slow movements (slow fashion and slow money followed later) counteracts this fast-paced lifestyle. It embraces local food and traditional cooking and rejects a homogenized, globalized agricultural system.
We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods… A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.”The Slow Food Manifesto
Slow down! Do less and sometimes, do nothing.
3. Eat fermented food
The inclusion of consuming fermented foods on this list of ecoanxiety coping strategies doesn’t stem simply from my obsession with making these delicious concoctions. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress “can ravage the immune system,” making you more susceptible to illnesses.
Fermented foods, on the other hand, boost your immunity. But wait, there’s more! (So much more.) Fermented foods may also reduce anxiety. I had credited aging and wisdom for the reduced anxiety I began to experience several years ago. But I think the fermented foods I started to eat daily at that same time have played an important role. These foods also require little to no energy to make.
Here in Northern California, the trees and plants that have thrived from a wet winter have begun to dry out, while temperatures have started heating up. We can expect another heavy wildfire season. As fires flare up, so will ecoanxiety.
Fortunately, my family doesn’t live in a fire zone. However, last year, we couldn’t safely breathe the smoke-filled air that blew down from the Camp Fire to the Bay Area, where it sat for over a week. Masks sold out quickly so I’ll buy some Vogmasks now. Under poor air quality conditions, these last for five to six months and if never used, they last for three years. The disposable ones work for one day only. I also now have an air purifier. These also sold out quickly during the Camp Fire. I hope we won’t need the masks or the air purifier this fire season but I’ll be very relieved to have them if we do.
Preparing for the worst will not only help you should disaster strike, it will give you more peace of mind.
5. Get out in nature
A recent study shows that two hours spent out in a park, the woods or the beach weekly boosts health and wellbeing, whether we take that two-hour dose in one shot or in small snippets throughout the week.
Of those who spent little or no time in nature, a quarter reported poor health and almost half said they were not satisfied with their life, a standard measure of wellbeing. In contrast, just one-seventh of those who spent at least two hours in nature said their health was poor, while a third were not satisfied with their life.”The Guardian
6. Bike or walk if possible
Commuting by car and sitting in traffic with other grumpy drivers going nowhere increases stress. If you can commute by bike or on foot, not only will you eliminate this stress, you will burn calories rather than fossil fuels and your mental health will benefit from the exercise.
7. Look for a social network of like-minded individuals
I love my zero-waste community. We meet regularly, lately to sew reusable cloth produce bags that we give away at the farmers’ market. Look for a similar community where you live or volunteer for an environmental organization. If you can’t find an ecoanxiety type of support group in person, you can find your people on social media. On Instagram, you’ll find an active, supportive #zerowaste community, for example.
8. Learn some skills
Become more self-sufficient and learn skills that will stand you in good stead in a changing climate. Consumerism and our reliance on convenience has rendered skills such as gardening, cooking, sewing, knitting, carpentry and so on as, well, quaint. These skills not only boost your self-sufficiency, they can be meditative, which reduces anxiety.
9. Meditate or practice yoga or do both
If you feel anxious and have never meditated before, don’t expect to eliminate your anxiety immediately the first time you hunker down into lotus position. You’ll need to practice meditation regularly (preferably daily) before the anxiety-reducing benefits can kick in. I learned to meditate using the hong-sau method. It works! Yoga provides similar anxiety-reducing effects.
10. Seek professional help
If your ecoanxiety disrupts your sleeping or eating, keeps you from thinking of anything but environmental doom or causes panic attacks, seek professional help. Do not feel ashamed if you need to speak with someone! If you broke your leg, you wouldn’t try to set it yourself. I’ve had therapy in the past and think everyone can benefit from it. Ask your primary caregiver for a referral.
Increasing our resilience to climate change in our communities requires cooperation and working together rather than clinging to our current inequitable system of competition and rivalry. We’ll have to share our natural and cultural resources that should be available to all—known as the commons—rather than continue to permit the highest bidders to divvy them up amongst themselves. We’ll actually apply all that stuff we learned in kindergarten or hear about in church.
12. Take to the streets for peaceful disruption
According to a recent article in The Guardian, Extinction Rebellion, which disrupted business as usual in London for a week in April, has “pierced the bubble of denial” about the climate crisis in the UK. The article compares the movement to the small child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” who has pointed
at the naked king, stating the reality: that all life on Earth is under threat, even the families of journalists and MPs, and only a mass mobilisation of people across the world will force our deluded leaders to act.”