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Earth Day: Eco-Anxiety and Ways to Cope

Today is Earth Day and I want to talk about climate anxiety or eco-anxiety and ways to cope. Last year I wrote about what Earth Day is and ways to engage in nature. This year I want to spend more time recognizing the distress many feel about the state of our world from an environmental focus. Climate change can impact our mental health in many ways. It can evoke feelings such as grief, anger, loss, hopelessness, shame, fatigue and guilt. These feelings can be elicited through vicarious experiences in the environment or direct experiences such as loss of livelihood or shelter/housing.  Learning ways to cope with climate anxiety can help us avoid burnout/fatigue, continue to function and find joy in our everyday lives, stay engaged in climate action, instill hope for the future and sit with our feelings/avoid becoming overwhelmed by our feelings. 


What is climate anxiety/eco-anxiety? The American Psychological Association (APA) describes eco-anxiety as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one’s future and that of the next generation.” 


Ways to cope with climate anxiety/eco-anxiety: Learning ways to cope with climate anxiety/ eco-anxiety  can help us avoid burnout/fatigue, continue to function and find joy in our everyday lives, stage engaged in climate action, instill hope for the future and sit with our feelings/avoid becoming overwhelmed by our feelings. 


  • Talk about it! Using the therapeutic space to discuss these potential existential thoughts can be a helpful and important part of the therapeutic journey. Externalizing the feelings that you have can be really beneficial to reducing the intensity of the feelings. Externalizing with friends or family can be an alternative if they are open to it. 


  • Seek Community: Remember that you are not alone. Finding a community of people who understand how you feel and what you’re passionate about can help you feel more supported, connected and encouraged to continue to take action. Connecting with others can also help you cultivate a sense of hope for the future. Having hope and seeing that others believe change can happen is necessary to carry on the work that needs to be done. One local organization I have found helpful to connect with is Sustainaville but there are many others to explore and be a part of. 


  • Practice compassion: Recognizing the state of climate change can be a painful situation and it can invoke painful emotions which are important to acknowledge with kindness and compassion for ourselves and others. A DBT skill I encourage relevant to this is radical acceptance. This is not giving up or giving in, but rather reducing our own emotional distress which does not help the situation. Other ways to practice self compassion is finding a mantra/saying related to your experience that validates the experience and acknowledges the experience. For example, “It is okay to feel stressed about climate change.” 


  • Focus on what you can control: Climate change is a complex issue and while it can be disheartening to hear, it is important to recognize that you alone are not responsible for climate change. That being said, it can feel empowering to recognize things that are in your control such as participating in climate change initiatives, writing or calling legislators to encourage them to take action, building more sustainable habits around energy use, composting recycling etc., engaging in meaningful conversations about climate change. These are some, not all options. 


  • Avoid overload/Take a break: There are so many areas we can engage in regarding climate change, and when we engage in too many projects it can lead to burnout. Try narrowing the focus to one or two areas and give yourself permission to take breaks from news cycles that repeat the same story related to an environmental event. There is being informed and being over-informed where you are being given the same story without new information. 


This Earth Day, let us acknowledge the feelings and reactions we are having towards the state of our world and re-engage. What is one way you could respond to these feelings today?




 

Vera Bednar, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) and certified in dialectical behavioral therapy (C-DBT). A Lesley University graduate, Vera earned a bachelor's in counseling and art therapy and a master's in clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in trauma.


Prior to joining Looking Glass Counseling, Vera worked in a wide variety of clinical settings including inpatient, residential, intensive outpatient and an assisted living center with an art therapy focus. She also worked in partial hospitalization programs specializing in trauma, LGBTQIA+ individuals and young adult transitions as well as substance use.




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