Ever have an insurmountable pressure of dismay in the very pit of your stomach? Your throat? And maybe you already know what anxiety feels like. But this overwhelming longing comes post-research, post-news, post-podcast, post-conversation about climate change. It comes as an overwhelming build-up, a pain of the unknown. The realities of our human species, our continuous detriments, and the seemingly ever impending doom of our earth. This can be classified as eco-anxiety.
What is eco-anxiety???
Climate psychologist Caroline Hickman, spoke on the Climate Crisis Conversation podcast in 2019, discussing the realms of our relationship with eco-anxiety, including giving it a definitive term. When discussing coining a term for eco-anxiety, “That anxiety, that grief, and rage, is the pain and the price we pay for living fully within the world”, from Caroline Hickman, on Climate Crisis Conversations podcast. We feel the brunt of it because we merely allow ourselves to. Those who associate with eco-anxiety have allowed for the information to resonate deeply with them, the listeners.
“There’s a sense of community when giving eco-anxiety a definitive term, a name. Naming things means that we can relate and that we can empathize. On the other hand, you could pin it down and over-define it”, from Caroline Hickman, on Climate Crisis Conversations podcast.
In 2012, both University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sarah A. Moore, and Paul Robbins recorded findings on the idea of said Ecological Anxiety Disorder. The two cite a book by Alan Weisman, The World Without Us, which examines what the world would appear to be without the existence of humans. A perspective of such - how can we save the earth from humans? The parallels are connected with the example of the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion in the Ukraine - how solely non-human species inhibit the city that once housed thousands of humans.
So, who is more inclined to encounter feelings of eco-anxiety? “It tends to be more prevalent among people who are more aware about the protection of the environment”, from Iberdrola. In other words, those who have pre-existing knowledge, who strive to better or change the realms within their day-to-day life, those who already have that seed planted. It’s quite simple. For example, the more you know, the more room there is for questioning, but for both drive and hyper-awareness. The more room for despair, for said eco-anxiety.
From Iberdrola, “according to a survey conducted by global trends company WGSN, 90% of global respondents said that thinking about the climate crisis makes them feel uncomfortable about their future”. In turn, this can be considered positive news. When considering the younger generations, knowing they are identifying with these abrasive realities as well, allows for hope. For some, it’s merely planting a seed for thought, for livelihood, and for change.
However, for some, the seed has been planted far too many times, to the point of exhaustion, to hyper-awareness. With the amount of information at our fingertips, it seems redundant to claim that millennials and Gen-Z are subconsciously overwhelmed by the accessibility to whatever we want to know, but it is our truth.
For some, technology has been the brunt of existence throughout their youth, adolescence and early adulthood, ergo, never experiencing a ‘pure’ sense of reality, per se. A reality without cellphones, laptops, ipads, photo-editing, etc.
“More than nine-in-10 (93 percent) say if a company makes a commitment, it should have the appropriate programs and policies in place to back up that commitment; and three-quarters (75 percent) will do research to see if a company is being honest when it takes a stand on issues”, according to Sustainable Brands. This mindset can be extremely helpful when evaluating greenwashing associated with brands - weaning out the frauds.
So, what are relative examples of what fuels our eco-anxiety? To name a few, the injurious Australian forest fires in January and February of 2020. The ever-lingering great pacific garbage patch - it’s the size of the state of Texas x2. The found engraved manatee in Florida, spelling “Trump”.
As well, specific reads educating us on our impending doom, such as The Uninhabitable Earth, by the eponymous David Wallace Wells - a fairly radical and unapologetic take on what our future looks like based on our behavior involving a vast variety of chronic consequences we will soon encounter.
Instagram itself - aka, accounts dedicated solely to creating awareness for oceanic species, factory farming, the dwindling of natural resources, clothing waste, fair-wage, and the abuse of factory workers. The list goes on…This hyper-awareness allows for a somewhat unconscious reliance on this information. Almost like we crave the knowledge of more, but more of what? Damaging information.
At times, I’ve found myself incredibly overwhelmed with what I’m fed. This leads me to desire the complete release of what I know. This sounds horrible (!), but for a moment, we can easily feel extremely overwhelmed, and in succession, take a step back. This can in-turn be helpful - I re-evaluate what I know, what I want to know, and how I can continue to create positive change in my life and in those around me.
Covid, in specific to my ethical morals, in phases, has rocked me. At times, I’ve recognized feeling lackluster with the beliefs I used to hold myself extremely accountable for. For example, I find myself forgetting to bring my reusable bags to the store, not worrying about the gross amount of to-go coffee cups I build up, not buying bulk items and bringing my own jars, etc, etc. I associate these transactions with the inability of power, of control.
Covid has slapped us all in the face, saying ‘Hey, actually, wait. You can’t have that right now, or this. And this, it’s not going to work out’. The absolute awareness of knowing nothing can be planned for, it’s always been out of our control, but now, we don’t know the end date of this structure - so we panic.
Many people fault those who complain about the traumas of today, like the dire climate-crisis, the BLM movement, the housing crisis. They compare them with the troubles of the past, stating that ‘nothing is as bad as it used to be’. From Caroline Hickman, on Climate Crisis Conversations podcast, “Maybe we can’t compare it with living through a world war, or being tortured. It can’t be compared in that way, but equally, comparing it is really unhelpful. This is about a fear of environmental doom”.
Try altering your way of thinking or handling these stresses through the little things. Engage in activities that can allow yourself some grace. Go on a walk or a run with a friend, and pick up trash along the way. Test yourself - go a day without encountering plastic, or have a zero-waste day. Bake a carrot cake, have dinner with friends - each of you committing to use as little waste as possible. Start a compost in your backyard, then transition that soil to create a little garden! Trade veggies with friends, have a clothing swap, or a spontaneous yard sale.
If you find yourself struggling with the consequences of eco-anxiety, reduce your feelings of guilt. You are not at fault. This is bigger than any of us can even wrap our heads around, but education is the first step in both altering our and our peers’ mindsets. After enough time, we begin to build resistance, as with anything. The enemy of climate crisis is chronic, so education is at the forefront of how we address any small positive changes.
Nature doesn’t need us, but we indeed need nature.