As two climate-conscious, self-critical people on our sustainable living journey, a regular feeling we experience is what some people refer to as ‘eco anxiety’. We want to explore what really is eco anxiety, why do we feel it, and how can we manage it. So, who are we?
H: I’m Hazel, an environmental scientist from Leeds, now working for an environmental research charity working to translate science into action with regards to climate change and trees. I’m beginning an MSc in Climate Change and Policy next year.
L: And I’m Lucy, a freelance illustrator from Leeds, using my work to explore environmental issues and wellbeing. I’m passionate about using my art to communicate and raise awareness in a peaceful way.
Eco anxiety is a term we have been talking about for the past year or so. Both being vegan, fighting to reduce our waste and plastic consumption, actively reading about climate change research and combatting fast fashion, we recognise we are trying to do a lot. Having lived together for 2 years at uni, conversations about stress related to climate change; our families and friend’s attitudes to environmental issues; and personal anxiety about our impact on the planet have become unhealthily frequent. We realise that we’ve both become a little obsessed with the idea of reducing our impact and are frustrated by other’s behaviours and attitudes towards the issues. Have you ever felt deeply guilty for buying strawberries because of the plastic punnet? Have you been biting your tongue at family meals when some long-distance relative claims to ‘not see the point of veganism’? Have you fallen down the rabbit hole of calculating your carbon footprint and believing you should never take a flight again? We are certain we are not alone in this.
Thoughts and feelings are complex, crazy and wonderful. Feelings can lead to positive actions. Thoughts can spark interesting conversations. However, some of these thoughts and feelings can lead us to believe we have the responsibility to sort this world out, single handed. A couple of the common feelings and thoughts might be:
I’m really cold and I would love to feel the warmth of the radiator, but I know I must keep adding extra layers. I’ve grown out of some of my warm clothes. I’ve tried the charity shops, but I just can’t find my size, I couldn’t possibly give in to fast fashion, but I don’t have the money for the sustainable brands I see online. So what shall I do?
You’re having a meal with family. You’re quizzed about your choice to be vegan. You have to bite your tongue whilst trying to not give a 15-minute speech relaying all the statistics about carbon emissions, water usage and animal cruelty.
I want to go on holiday with my friends. We’ve been wanting to go to Poland for ages! On the plane- ‘I have chosen to fly…I am now the direct cause of Arctic ice melt’ (Irrational thought processes not always welcome).
It’s so easy to get into a bubble where you surround yourself with people who feel the same feelings, make the same choices, and fight for the same issues. Whether that be a political view, supporting a football team or embarking on a zero-waste journey. It’s no surprise that we forget others do not feel the same, when we are so actively engaged in the issue. Greenwashing for example: we can see straight through it, but somebody else might be thrilled to purchase an organic cotton t-shirt from one of the most damaging companies in the industry. This bubble we have created has a rose-tinted haze that can make us think everybody cares as much, everybody wants to fight for the planet, everybody believes in the climate emergency. But unfortunately, our bubble isn’t so resilient, and it pops all the time by little pin pricks of reality. A policy that undermines actions to tackle air pollution. Being handed a single-use coffee cup before you’ve even had the opportunity to hand your reusable cup over *sheds tears*. A person who tells you just how much they look forward to hot UK summers. We are not the general population. We are the climate conscious, the truly engaged activists for the wellbeing of the planet and we recognise that our privilege gives us the time and resources to be conscious of this. However, we cannot forget that not everybody is on the same page and not everybody has the capacity to be either. We must be mindful of trillions of global problems, personal issues and systemic barriers that can explain other’s actions, or lack of actions. Compassion and understanding for all remain absolutely vital when talking about global scale issues and fighting for positive change.
We are in the world’s 6th mass extinction. Heart-breaking. We have remarkable miss Thunberg representing our voices at leading global summits. Amazing. Our planet is on fire. Terrifying. You are trying your best. Inspiring. Balancing the negative with the positive, pessimism with optimism, that’s what we need more of to combat our eco anxiety. How can we maintain good levels of personal health and wellbeing if we are beating ourselves up all the time about the deteriorating health and wellbeing of the planet?
HERE’S A COUPLE OF TIPS WE HAVE PICKED UP:
Your ability to contribute to positive actions relies on your own strength and happiness. Your health and wellbeing are just as important as the planet’s health and wellbeing. Be gentle, be mindful, observe your feelings and take care.
Recognise that you can only do so much. Despite wanting to single handedly save the planet, you’re not a superhuman, so be motivated by what you can do, and accepting of what you can’t. There’s lots of other people with other skills, maybe somebody else is able to do that impossible task.
You are your own person with your own unique contribution to the world. Channel that into positive actions and use whatever platform you have, be that work, school or social media, to share positively and inspire.
To avoid catastrophising, like that one time you bought ‘cool original Doritos’ convinced they were vegan and later felt like you’d committed a crime, STOP. Don’t get on board the negativity train, it doesn’t drop you off anywhere pretty. Alternatively, cultivate the compassion to keep going on your positive journey and accept that widespread imperfect actions are better than one person’s perfect actions.
We would like to think that not too many people feel eco anxiety like we do. But if you do, we’d love to think this message helps you and reminds you that this isn’t your fault, and you aren’t alone in trying to make it better. There are so many ways that you can transform your eco anxiety into empowerment and making a difference. As Jana Stanfield rightly said ‘I cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that I can do’.