By: Emma Johnson, MFTC
What is Eco-Anxiety?
Eco-anxiety refers to the fear of environmental or ecological damage and destruction. Humans’ current and future relationship with the environment has become uncertain because of both the short-term and long-term effects of ecological disasters. While there are numerous environmental disasters, some of the most anxiously anticipated ones include tsunamis, wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados. Eco-anxiety escalates when individuals find themselves, their loved ones, or treasured places at risk.
The past, present, and future damage on the environment has varying psychological consequences ranging in severity for people. Certain people are more at-risk of increased psychological impact including those who live in areas more prone to environmental disasters and those whose livelihoods rely on the environment. Additionally, those at risk of losing housing, cultural heritage, or a sense of belonging and community are also at increased risk of developing eco-anxiety.
Eco-anxiety has yet to be named a diagnosable condition. However, it manifests in many of the below:
- Substance abuse
- Reduced autonomy
- Feelings of hopelessness and fear
Given the increase in environmental crises, eco-anxiety is likely to rise. While the actions of one person is not going to change the entire world, there are some things we as individuals can do to help manage eco-anxiety and take care of our planet.
1. Increase Awareness
Empower yourself by increasing your environmental education and sharing your knowledge with others. Increasing understanding of what is happening, what is contributing to the problem, and how to combat it increases feelings of autonomy and preparation. Being informed is a positive action to take; however, there is a balance of not overexposing yourself to too much information as this could further increase stress or anxiety.
2. Increase Resilience
Being resilient in your attempt to manage eco-anxiety will help reduce some of the negative symptoms mentioned above. Boosting resilience can look like building and maintaining a support system, looking at problems in a wider context, redefining problems as solvable, creating achievable and measurable goals, and practicing self-care.
3. Engage with Nature
Deepen your relationship with nature. Engage in outdoor activities that help you restore a personal connection with the environment. If you are unable to immediately bond with nature, keep a piece of it with you to turn to when feeling disconnected. Keeping a rock, stick, dried flower or plant in your room or office can be incredibly grounding.
4. Change Personal Behaviors
Engaging in more sustainable lifestyle practices can help increase a sense of agency and reduce eco-anxiety. Here are some ideas on how to build a more sustainable lifestyle:
- Consume more responsibly. Buy only the food you need, eat foods that are only sustainable for the environment (primarily meats and vegetables), prepare meals with leftovers, or build a garden and grow your own food.
- Change your commute. Travel via bicycle, walking, running, or public transport.
- Reduce your electricity consumption. Turn off lights, unplug household appliances when not using, avoid preheating the oven, hang-dry clothes, air-dry hair, or insulate windows and doors and lower the temperature on the thermostat.
- Reduce your water consumption. Shorten showers, reduce baths taken, or avoid washing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.
- Be conscious of plastic use. Use paper or stainless-steel straws, reusable shopping bags, food containers, and water bottles.
- Go paper-free with bills/statements. Opt out of snail mail and choose e-bills instead.
5. Participate in the Community
Working with others towards the same goal of protecting the environment can increase your sense of connection. The emotional and social support granted by community resources can also boost your resilience and help you feel less alone.