HOW TO TURN ENVIRONMENTAL ANXIETY INTO ACTION
Moments after reading the UN’s global climate change report, I was sent into a tailspin. The report divulged that limiting global warming will require “far-reaching and unprecedented changes” to human behavior. It’s safe to say I already had doubt in humanity, but this news multiplied my lack of faith. Though, the kicker was when I learned that we only have twelve years to reverse climate change—at most. Twelve years. This alarming reality clouded my mind and kept me up at night. I’d always been eco-conscious and considered myself an informed citizen, but I was never fully aware of the distressing, verifiable truth of our environment, which is that we’re doomed.
For a week straight, I woke up every morning with a weight on my chest and a pit in my stomach. I’d cry in class midday and find myself unable to escape from the environmental existential crisis I was experiencing. I decided to research the specific type of unease swarming my thoughts; I needed relief and I needed it fast. After hunting down every climate-related psychological study I could find, I can now classify my atmospherical restlessness as eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety is described as worry, depression, or anxiety triggered by an awareness of the environmental woes we face. Nearly three quarters of millennials experience it after listening to or reading the news, so I knew I wasn’t alone. It set me at ease, and the anxiety faded.
However, a day or two later, I found myself even more distraught, for a different reason. In the week that I experienced my first bout of eco-anxiety, I dodged all news platforms that give factual information on the frightening state of our Earth and watched mindless Netflix shows instead. I refrained from talking about global warming with family, friends, and educators, which is uncommon for me. I found myself narrowly averting thoughts of our world and Universe so I didn’t have to experience another mind-splitting existential catastrophe. The reason I was so distraught after weathering such a difficult week was because, when I came back to the real world (and to my sanity), I realized that I was avoiding awareness. This is scarier than the pit of fear in my stomach, because it means I wasn’t taking action. Aren’t I scared of the Earth imploding? Doesn’t that mean I should do something about it rather than placate myself? I thought that constant music or outside distraction would make me feel better, and it did... for an hour, at best. It was a temporary bandaid.
We as humans avoid consciousness to impermanently avoid being uncomfortable, when we should be fighting our ecological anxiety with consciousness, with action. Don’t get me wrong, a good scream, cry, and/or existential crisis is needed at times, but I refuse to live with fear and anxiety everyday about the realities of our planet. Luckily, I found some helpful ways to manage it.
1. Make a list. We find ourselves so overwhelmed by the complexity of our Earth’s problems that we have no clue where to start, so we don’t. Humans feel fine fighting for something that we can check off on a list, but, unfortunately, global warming is not one of those things. It’s paralysing. I’ve found that writing a list of small, manageable things I can do to help the environment eases my anxiety. I like to pinpoint ONE issue at a time and make my actions checkable. You can write anything from ‘go a day without using plastic’ to ‘ride my bike to work instead of driving.’ Nothing is too small, because you are making a difference with every step.
2. Use your voice (it’s free!) As somebody who hates the superficiality of Instagram, I sure use it quite a lot, though I believe it’s for good reason. Social media gives us the tools we need to make our voices heard to people of all demographics, races, genders, etc… So, instead of sitting with your uncomfortable feelings, put them into a message that others can read and be inspired by. Using hashtags like #zerowaste or #noplastic can help others find and give you new tips on how to be even more sustainable. Win-win.
3. Get to work. Anxiety about our planet can feel debilitating, which makes facing and tackling our woes head-on even scarier. Instead, we want to curl up and eat chocolate and listen to ‘Sign of the Times’ (maybe that one’s just me…); however, doing the opposite will be far more advantageous. Physically taking action, whether that’s picking up trash in the park or eating vegan that day or volunteering with an environmental organisation allows you to tangibly help our Earth and feel more in control. For me, it’s a surefire way to alleviate my dread.
4. Pat yourself on the back. Due to the boastful nature of social media, it always seems like we’re never doing enough to help. I’m known to get a little crazy with my philanthropic to-do lists and burn myself out, which is worse than accepting I may not be able to do it all, all the time. After learning this, I became a better humanitarian. One can only do so much without driving themselves crazy. As long as you’re staying aware, informed, and taking action, you should be proud of yourself. Take a breath, relax your shoulders, unclench your teeth.
You’re—we’re—going to be fine.
Written by @ellarubin1
Ella Rubin is a 17 year old actor and student who's interests include veganism, food justice, and sustainability. She is a wellness writer for Spoon University who are currently campaigning at her high school to make every Thursday 'Vegan Day' in the cafeteria.