Coping with eco-anxiety

Rainbow and trees

If you’ve been feeling unsettled about environmental issues of late there are some practical tips that can help. Friends of the Earth nailed how anxious we can get in their ‘We’ve all been there’ video, watch until the end for a smile. We don’t have to downplay the enormity of the environmental crisis to find ways to cope and actually, acknowledging the situation and that our anxiety is a rational response can reassure us that we are not the problem, lasting systemic change is what is needed. Eco-anxiety is a term used to describe the anxieties that we may have about climate change or other ecological damage. It’s important to remember that eco-anxiety is a rational response to a disturbing state of affairs. As Sarah Niblock of the UK Council for Psychotherapy says“Eco-anxiety is a term that’s used a lot, but it’s misguided if it’s not used in the right way,”… “This is not an illness or disorder, it’s a perfectly normal and healthy reaction.”. So we know we’re human and rational to feel this way, but how can we avoid feeling overwhelmed without minimising the state of our ecology?

Remember that you are not alone, says Psychotherapist and Lecturer Carole Hickman. Finding a community of like-minded people can help us to cope. We can share concerns and help to find collective solutions. How often do I hear volunteers and visitors at St Nicks say that they love the sense of community here? Discussions about reducing carbon foot printsminimising waste or love for nature are the backdrop to our groups and sessions. These type of conversations reassure us that we are not alone in our concerns and collective solutions start with a conversation. Where we can’t meet in person social mediabecomes our friend.

Feeling capable of doing something – or agency –  is another way to cope, says Penny Sarcher from New Scientist. This might be developing new habits such as cycling instead of driving, buying less, going vegan or taking a staycation holiday. All of these are well within our reach and can inspire others to make changes in their lives. Being involved in an environmental group can bring wider benefits because the impacts are further reaching. Joining a Climate Group or environmental NGO can help us personally because we feel connected with others and it’s practical because we’re helping to find wider solutions. Environmental groups inspire climate protests, direct action and environmental campaigns which can change policies and laws.

Doing something positive like nurturing green spaces can help us to cope

Protecting and nurturing local green spaces is another practical way we can ‘do something’. Planting trees, growing wildflowers, helping with wildlife surveys, all of these make a practical contribution as well as the personal wellbeing benefits of connecting with nature.

It’s not easy, but you could say it’s would be strange if we didn’t feel unsettled by environmental concerns. There’s a wealth of research and practices that tells us that it is by feeling our anxiety, fear, despair or overwhelm that transformation into authentic positive action for change can be inspired – more about that another time! For now, find some time this month to reach out to others or do something practical that can make a difference.

This blog was originally written when I worked as an Ecotherapy Assistant at St Nicks urban nature reserve in York. It was part of a series exploring some of the latest research and debates in the field of Ecotherapy along with nature inspired tips for how to put the research into practice

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