By Susan Bakshi
Eco Anxiety is a recognized form of anxiety* stemming from a sense of doom or depression tied to the grief of a lost future as a result of the climate crisis/ecological destruction of the planet. It is a form of Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder and as front line environmental workers and volunteers we would like to acknowledge all the feelings that many of us may be having right now - anger, fear, frustration, guilt, disassociation, burnout and overwhelm. These are all normal and you are not alone in feeling them.
So what can we do to help ourselves and others?
There are a number of things we can do to help mitigate the effects of eco-anxiety on our mental health and our relationships.
- Get outside - Being in nature can calm the nervous system, lower blood pressure, decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Recent studies have shown that even looking at pictures of nature can be helpful in reducing stress and increasing a sense of well-being.
- Take Action - As environmentalists, many of you are already doing this but it bears repeating. Whether it be writing letters, recycling your bottles, running for office, joining a march… Taking action can lead to a sense of empowerment and hope which is critical to ones resilience.
- Find your community of like minded people - Finding people that understand what you are feeling and can offer compassionate support is important to all aspects of life. Being seen and heard and having your concerns shared can provide strength and energy for your actions. We are all stronger together.
- Take tIme outs - The work you do for the planet is so important, but everyone needs breaks! Every once in a while do something that is completely removed from the movement (do some sports, go to the movies, visit an art gallery, etc.) Just remember to keep your activities in line with your values around the climate crisis in order to avoid having to deal with further emotional stress later.
- Start a gratitude practise - A gratitude practise can be done formally (e.g., by journaling) or informally (e.g., taking mental notes of joy throughout the day). With so much wrong in this world, it can be incredibly nourishing to focus on those things which are still “right”, that bring us joy, delight and contentment.
- Meditation/Mindfulness practises - Sometimes in order to keep moving forward, you need to stop. Not forever, but for now. And this is where a mindfulness/meditation practice can help immensely. Strong emotions, like fear and anger, can be strong motivators for action, but when the pain of the climate crisis is so real and constant we risk becoming overwhelmed, withdrawn and paralyzed. Meditation and mindfulness practises teach us to lean into those big feelings so we can non judgmentally acknowledge and take control of them.
With practise, taking control allows us to build our resilience to the stressors rather than be overwhelmed by them.
The other big thing that meditation and mindfulness practise brings to us is an awareness of when we are approaching the limits of our tolerance so we can pause and recharge in a healthy helpful way.
* While the tips below will certainly help they are not intended to replace therapy with a certified professional. If you are struggling, please reach out to you family doctor or Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 about getting additional supports.
Photo: Dziana Hasanbekava from pexels.com
TO350 is now offering a space for people to meet up every other week to talk and support each other. The session sometimes includes meditation or focuses around a book or theme. It usually occurs every other Thursday via zoom. Contact us to find out more!