What Is Eco-Anxiety?
Do you find yourself worrying about the future of our planet to the point that you’re anxious, losing sleep, or changing your plans about things like school, career and family? If so, you’re not alone! A recent survey shows that 83% of Gen Z are worried about the planet’s health. It’s not just Gen Z, though–millennials without children have even cited the climate crisis as the reason they’ve chosen not to be parents. In fact, many are so worried about the environment that there are a couple of new terms for anxiety about the climate crisis. Let’s talk about “solastalgia” and “eco-anxiety.”
What’s Climate Change Got to Do With It?
We talk a lot about anxiety at TheHopeLine, but what on earth does mental health have to do with climate change? A big factor of eco-anxiety or solastalgia is the sense of helplessness most people report feeling about the climate crisis. We know from research that humans have played a role in the problems that now face us, but a lot of us don’t know how to help. Or, we feel that the problem is simply too huge to address. This feeling may be accompanied by a feeling of guilt, since most media places the responsibility on human consumption for both the problem and the solution. That, in combination with helplessness, often results in a sense of dread or impending doom. If you have all those feelings at once, it’s no wonder you have anxiety! A feeling of helplessness is a hallmark symptom of anxiety and depression because it means we feel stuck in our circumstances or unable to make a change in our situation. When everyone from Time Magazine to Bo Burnham is talking about ice caps melting and oceans rising, it’s tough to feel like you have any power to fix such monumental problems.
It’s clear, then, that worries about climate change can impact our mental health from within, but there are now fears amongst scientists that it’s having an external impact on mental health as well. Research has long shown that crime rates and suicide rates increase during heat waves, and now there are concerns that with the general increase in temperatures across the West, there may also be a general increase in irritability, depression and anxiety. Higher temperatures can result in higher cortisol levels, which is our stress hormone, so as long as heat is on the rise, our collective mental health may also take a blow. So the mental health crisis and the climate crisis seem to be linked for better or for worse!
The Good/Bad News
Now that we’ve covered how the climate crisis can impact mental health, here’s some news that’s both good and bad, depending on how you look at it: Anxiety is anxiety. There’s nothing particularly new or special about the symptoms of eco-anxiety. No matter where it comes from, it’s still, at the end of the day, under the anxiety umbrella. The bad news? With overwhelming media coverage and increasing pressure from our peers and leaders to take action, it’s looking like the root causes of solastalgia aren’t going anywhere. The good news? Anxiety is a problem we’ve dealt with before, and there are so many ways you can ease your symptoms while also confronting the heart of the matter.
Tips for Decreasing Anxiety Symptoms
First, let’s get those symptoms under control. If you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms right now, like excessive worry, feelings of helplessness, shortness of breath or heart palpitations, you need to practice some grounding techniques. Many of these focus on engaging the five senses in order to bring your focus back to the present moment rather than falling into a negative thought spiral about the future. From deep breathing and meditation to dancing and tapping, there are a lot of really good ways to get grounded.
Once you’re feeling more settled in the present moment, try connecting with nature. All this talk of climate change can sometimes make us feel like there’s no hope. On the contrary, there’s so much beauty left on our planet, and you deserve to get out there and enjoy it. Whether you live in a crowded city or the middle of nowhere, go for a stroll today. As you do, observe the sky, the water, the plants, the birds and the bees, etc. This may sound cheesy, but every time you notice something that counts as “nature,” whisper “thank you.” Taking a moment to express gratitude for what we have in the present, rather than worrying about what we might lose, can be incredibly uplifting and help you to feel less hopeless about climate change.
If you’re still feeling anxious after both grounding and gratitude practices, it may be a good idea to reach out to a friend or trusted adult to talk about your anxiety. You could even reach out to us at TheHopeLine or talk to a school counselor about getting connected to a mental health professional to discuss more long-term solutions for combating anxiety. There’s absolutely no reason you have to manage these symptoms on your own. We’ve got your back, and there are numerous resources out there ready to support you in your mental health journey.
Lastly, don’t beat yourself up for feeling this way! Remember that you are not, by any means, the only person whose concern for the planet’s health is impacting their mental health. Beyond that, you are certainly not the only person impacted by anxiety! It’s natural to worry about life’s challenges, and many of us need help processing those feelings in a healthy way. With the tools you now have at your disposal, you can practice grounding, gratitude, and relying on trustworthy support to maintain a healthier baseline moving forward.
Action as an Antidote
Addressing those symptoms is an important first step for easing eco-anxiety! But you may feel the need to take it a step further and confront the root problem: that feeling of utter helplessness in the face of the climate crisis. What’s one person supposed to do about a global issue? Fortunately, in this case, that feeling of helplessness is just a feeling, not a fact. There are many ways we can do our part to confront the problem, and taking action may just be what you need to quell that anxiety and feel more hopeful about the future–a classic two birds, one stone scenario! In addition to the above tips for combating your anxiety symptoms, the following ideas for helping take care of your planet and community can also help to address eco-anxiety/solastalgia:
- Assess yourself! Check out this quiz to see if there are ways you could cut down on waste and do what you can to limit pollution.
- Recycling, composting, and waste reduction. These are things you can do on your own, or with your family and friends. Check out what kind of programs your school or neighborhood may already have. And in case you didn’t already know sustainability TikTok is a thing! Follow some TikTokers who are sharing their own sustainability journeys and giving really practical tips for how you could get started in your home.
- Connect with nature. Remember that stroll from earlier? Do that at least once a week. If you and your friends usually do indoor activities, challenge them to meet up outdoors more often. Check out the sunset every once in a while. Take your pup to the dog park. Visit your local botanical gardens. What’s the point in worrying about the planet if you don’t get to enjoy what you’re fighting for?
- Environmental justice groups and community advocacy. Does your school have an environmental justice club? Join up! If there isn’t one, start one. Even a group of five students can make a huge impact on the community, from starting a school composting or a gardening program, to petitioning your school district for more responsible sustainability practices.
- Education – Do your research! Then share it with others. There are lots of reliable resources out there for learning the facts of climate change and figuring out what you can do to help.
- Shop local. Be careful with this one! Shopping with local companies instead of big corporate chains can be a great way to support organizations that are also fighting for more sustainable practices, but just because a business is small and locally owned doesn’t mean they believe in sustainability. Make sure to ask questions of your vendors!
Finally, have fun with it! If your attempts at being more informed and taking action are filling you with more anxiety than you had to begin with, that’s counterproductive. It’s okay to take a step back. The point is that your action leads to hope. At TheHopeLine, we believe that our God is an artist who created this planet, all life on it (including us), and charged us to take care of what He called “good.” It’s incredibly cool to be given a job by the OG artist himself, that He would trust us with His art, and that we have the privilege of enjoying that creation every day. If you’re interested in talking to someone at TheHopeLine about how good stewardship of God’s creation mirrors Christ’s love for us, please reach out. It turns out that learning more about His love is another great balm to our anxieties, whether they stem from solastalgia or not, because it is the ultimate hope.
Coming to terms with an uncertain future can be tough, but it’s possible to gain peace of mind. Find out how here.
About the Author…
Cara Beth Heath is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, Illinois. She loves words and all the different ways they can come together to illuminate the world for us. All she wants to do is use her God-given word skills to bring light into dark places, and when she’s not doing that, she’s probably wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate watching a movie or playing Dungeons & Dragons… God loves nerds too!