You might recall the harrowing image of an emaciated polar bear in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago taken by wildlife photographer Paul Nicklenthat and published in National Geographic back in 2017. It was tragic, disturbing and very controversial. When I saw that image, it haunted me for months. The harsh reality highlighting a painful truth unfolding before my very eyes left me rattled – if this catastrophe was happening here and now, what else could happen in the near future? My thoughts went into a downward spiral of massive famine, drought, and scary world suffering scenarios. I distinctly remember feeling so sad and overwhelmed with grief to do much about it.
I was “green with worry” and I know I’m not alone. Eco-anxiety, as its called, is affecting a growing number of people and will probably continue to garner more widespread attention as the public becomes more aware of the impact we are having on our environment and planet. Below, we break down what eco-anxiety is and how to deal with it.
What Is Eco-Anxiety?
Eco-Anxiety as a term first appeared in the media over ten years ago when eco-conscious scientists and analysts feared over their research or concerned residents felt insurmountable guilt from news coverage. Categorized as a state of heightened anxiousness, people who suffer from eco-anxiety have a specific sort of worry: a singular focus on environmental destruction. While it is not yet an official point of reference in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (otherwise known as the DSM-5), the American Psychological Association did produce a lengthy report on Mental Health and Our Changing Climate in 2017 that highlighted how the impacts of climate change can have on the human psyche. Co-authored by environmental organizations, Climate for Health and ecoAmerica, the review spoke of “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.”
How Does Eco-Anxiety Affect You?
Brought on by devastating effects of climate change like floods, wildfires, heatwaves and the like, the condition leaves eco-anxious individuals to stress out, lose sleep, loss of appetite and even have reported panic attacks. According to APA’s review, the implications of eco-anxiety can “induce stress, depression and anxiety; strain social and community relationships; and have been linked to increases in aggression, violence and crime.” Perpetual fear from this environmental strain can even lead to longterm physical health decline and even disease.
Who Does Eco-Anxiety Affect?
Baby Boomers and Gen X may recall a time before climate change dominated the newsfeed, but when an entire generation has grown up witnessing our shrinking biodiversity, global warming warnings, and plastic waste destroying our oceans and marine life on a recurring cycle, it leaves our growing youth feeling powerless and uncertain on how to deal with the current state of the planet. This can explain why eco-anxiety is high among millennials; they are acutely aware of the links between human rights and the environment. A healthy environment is the foundation to fully enjoy your personal rights to life, health, food and water. The APA report cited one particular extreme case where “a teenage boy in Australia saw the effects of drought where he lived and to avoid contributing to it, he refused to drink water. ‘That’s kind of the poster child, if you will, for extreme eco-anxiety,’ said Dr. Robert Gifford, professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria.'”
How Can You Deal With Eco-Anxiety?
Though our planet’s resources are on a rapid decline, it’s important not to lose heart or hope. There is always a flip side to any situation and the beauty of our grit – perseverance and passion – can help direct the sea of change. We have an astounding collective of people pushing the narrative of climate change forward. All over the world, companies and organizations are rising to the challenge by developing new ideas or setting a precedence for plastic-free agendas. Foodtech companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have crushed the food scene to help solve these global issues in addition to animal welfare. In our fair city, we have amazing startups – big and small – pushing the status quo and driving sustainable and zero waste initiatives.
For those who wish to address climate change in your day-to-day lives, start small and shop wisely. Buy less plastic and bring a reusable shopping bag wherever you go. Follow the 5 R’s and don’t send chemicals into our waterways. Leading wellness site mindbodygreen also has some great tips and online women’s magazine, Bustle, offers some good suggestions on how to cope. Learn to educate yourself so you can help others understand the importance and value of our natural resources because protecting our planet starts with you. And remember, you are not alone. We humans are all in this together.
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