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Eco-Anxiety in the Age of Climate Change

Eco-Anxiety in the Age of Climate Change

The world is safe and predictable. We wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, spend weekends with friends and family and occasionally go on holiday. It is in this safety and predictability that we anchor our lives. 

But that’s changing. The climate crisis is challenging predictability and people aren’t sure how to handle that feeling of uncertainty. 

How do we put faith in our 9-5 OR school OR society when we can no longer count on an expected future? And what do we do when we come to the life-shattering realisation that everything we hold dear might be gone in our lifetimes. 

As climate protests, wild-fires, flooding and a barrage of other natural disasters push the climate-change agenda front and centre, eco-anxiety has exploded across the world. Mental health studies from Australia to Greenland reveal a spike in people reporting stress or depression about the environment. 

Eco-anxiety: A chronic fear of environmental doom

The term eco-anxiety has been around for over a decade, but only recently has it entered the public consciousness. The American Psychological Association describes it as "a chronic fear of environmental doom". 

The condition, according to the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA), manifests itself in several ways:

  • Grief
  • Rage
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness

So is the sweeping rise of eco-anxiety a mental health crisis? No. At least not according to Caroline Hickman, a teaching fellow at the University of Bath and CPA executive. "It's not a mental illness… If anything, it's a sign of good mental health because you are engaging with what's going on." 

The real problem is how we manage our feelings.

On some level, we all suffer from eco-anxiety because we find the uncertainty which the climate crisis brings to be unbearable. 

According to Hickman “To deal with that loss of control [some of us] project into the future, sometimes into apocalyptic thinking”. Others respond by shutting down and by distracting themselves with day-to-day living. Others still, deny the reality that the climate is changing or that it is human-caused. 

“All of us will fall somewhere on that spectrum from believing nothing worrying is happening at all, to worrying that in 10 years time everyone will be dead,” - Kris De Meyer, a neuroscientist at Kings College

Born out of research for our own sanity, we have outlined 4 ways to better handle eco-anxiety. While there is no silver-bullet we hope these tips help. 

1. Make sure your life-style aligns with your values

Eco-anxiety: Life style aligns with values

While our individual impact is very small, changing your lifestyle to match your values can help with eco-anxiety. Eat less meat and dairy, adopt minimalism, drive less and stop buying and disposing of so many items. 

“We live in a throwaway society. We consume much more than we need and it’s not making us happy. - Neil Jennings, Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute

That includes this holiday season. If you don’t support consumerism, don’t buy your friends and family gifts from a store. Instead, make them something, write a beautiful card or take them on an adventure. 

Here are 79 eco-friendly gift ideas.

2. Cut back on inefficient transport

Eco-anxiety: Cut-back on inefficient transport

South Africa’s public transport infrastructure is almost non-existent, but that’s no excuse to be complacent. Next time you’re in your car, have a look around you - 99% of vehicles that drive past are carrying one passenger - and that likely includes yours. 

Start carpooling, not only does this decrease your carbon footprint per journey, but fewer cars mean less traffic congestion which means less overall car emissions and a healthier economy

3. Don’t feel ashamed

Eco-anxiety: Don't feel ashamed

While we should all strive to match our lifestyles to our values (see tip 1), we shouldn’t feel ashamed that we are unable to all the time. We live in a world which essentially forces us to ‘harm the planet’. Our shame is not helping anyone. 

4. Find like-minded people

Eco-anxiety: Find like minded people

First, you need to realise that you’re not alone. Second, you need to talk about your feelings. The world is full of people thinking the same thoughts and feeling the same anxiety as you. There is no better way to accept hard facts like your vulnerability to climate change than with a like-minded person.

Where do you find these people? Say hello to fellow shoppers at plastic-free stores, join climate-action organisations and eat out at vegan orientated restaurants. There are also many online communities and forums. 

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You’ll not alone. If this article has raised issues for you, or if you know of someone who might be suffering from eco-anxiety - get in touch. Mielie Mailer was born out of anxiety about the state of the world and our ability (or lack thereof) to make change. We know how you feel and we’re always around to chat.

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We hope you enjoyed our blog post!

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