Combating Negative Ecological Emotion
As much as sustainability and climate change are constant topics in our society, they can also be very heavy and make people feel as if the fate of the world is on their shoulders with all the information out there. As stated by Ariel Green in her podcast “Sustainable Brown Girl,” as important as it is for us to advocate for the planet, it is also important for us to take care of our mental health. Even though the American Psychology Association (APA) has not recognized it as a mental illness yet, psychological disorders and chronic fear related to environmental problems have been associated with major environmental problems (Iberdrola, n.d.). Everyone can feel anxious about different things, especially events that are out of our control. This is completely understandable because these events might be a long-term disturbance or an environmental disaster that occurs close to one’s home. For example, someone who has lost someone or a home due to a tsunami or wildfire has a higher chance of climate-related stress. Eco-anxiety affects people differently, and certain groups of people are more at risk than others such as indigenous communities and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Sometimes we worry so much about the impacts of climate change that eco-anxiety can affect our daily lives or make us feel guilty about how our actions affect the environment.
It is quite common for people to feel a variety of emotions related to climate change; some potential symptoms related to eco-anxiety are:
- Depression/anxiety/sense of loss
- Shame related to one’s one carbon footprint
- Post-traumatic disorders
- Difficulty to concentrate
- Extreme thinking
Eco-anxiety is a psychological adaptation and response to climate threats; these symptoms might also lead to social instability with loved ones (Iberdrola, n.d.).
Eco-grief is another crisis similar to eco-anxiety which refers to the emotional loss or sorrow at the current and anticipated loss of our natural environment and the impacts of climate change (Comtesse et al. 2021). People who work closely with nature or have a deep relationship with the environment such as farmers, fisherman, and indigneous communities are more likely to experience this sense of mourning than others. According to research done by the Environment Research and Public Health, there are three types of ecological grief experienced by people. The first type of grief is related to physical loss and the extinction of species, the second deals with the loss of cultural knowledge about nature, and the third is the anticipated sense of loss of our ecosystem due to climate change (Comtesse et al. 2021).
Even though both terms originate from the same source, eco-anxiety and eco-grief are different. One still offers a place for healing or remedies to deal with stress while the other is a process of accepting things that cannot be undone and being open about new things (in other words, learning to move forward).
Although climate change might seem impossible to stop, there are still ways to protect your own mental health and actions to move forward:
- First, forgive yourself if you feel guilty about an action taken. Allow yourself to have those feelings and do a self-reflection.
- Start doing activities that promote sustainability such as beach cleanups, gardening, recycling, and composting. You can also volunteer.
- Raise your awareness and others’ about climate change and its impact. For example, calculate your carbon footprint and learn how you can reduce it.
- Have discussions with others interested in creating a sustainable world (in a safe space for students/individuals) to share solutions and ideas (e.g., options to reduce energy consumption)
- Join your local campus green club, or start one.
- Make more eco-conscious decisions such as buying reusable items or reducing your meat intake (if possible).
- Therapy can help to cope with anxiety and depression; there are eco-therapists that use the healing benefits of nature as a way to reduce stress or negative emotions.
It is natural for someone to feel sad or anxious about climate change, as it is now a part of life. We often feel powerless, too small to help, or hopeless about our governments failing to create meaningful changes. Public awareness of eco-anxiety and eco-grief are rising due to growing media coverage and a high demand in training for mental health professionals seems more pressing now than ever (Baudon & Jachens 2021). Awareness of climate change is important to move forward and change the way we talk, act, and feel about it. The impact from climate change will not disappear anytime soon, which is why climate education is important to understand what is happening around and within us. It is also necessary to provide information on how people or communities can come together, connect more strongly with nature, and contribute to more sustainable choices.
The experience of ecological anxiety and grief is likely to become more prevalent around the world, especially among the younger generation and minority communities. In order to help with these emotions, we have to ensure that everyone has access to the most reliable information on how we can contribute to save our planet, whether it is in research about ecological grief or anxiety, or climate mitigation and adaptation options (Gregory 2021). This will help to increase our knowledge about climate related distress and develop strategies for people to heal from those emotions.
Baudon, P., & Jachens, L. (2021). A Scoping Review of Interventions for the Treatment of Eco-Anxiety. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(18), 9636. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189636.
Comtesse, H., Ertl, V., Hengst, S., Rosner, R., & Smid, G. E. (2021). Ecological Grief as a Response to Environmental Change: A Mental Health Risk or Functional Response?. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(2), 734. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18020734.
Gregory, A. (2021). ‘Eco-anxiety’: fear of environmental doom weighs on young people. The Guardian.
Iberdola (n.d). WHAT IS ECO-ANXIETY: Eco-anxiety: the psychological aftermath of the climate crisis. Iberdola. https://www.iberdrola.com/social-commitment/what-is-ecoanxiety#:~:text=The%20American%20Psychology%20Association%20(APA,and%20that%20of%20next%20generations%E2%80%9D.