The term eco-anxiety defines a state of mind when you feel fear and anxious, stressed, and depressed about the prospect of severe climate changes. It includes the feelings of helplessness that people feel that nothing can change the situation no matter whatever steps they take. In 2017, the American Psychological Association referred to this mental health state as ‘eco-anxiety’ and described eco-anxiety as ‘a chronic fear of environmental doom.’
However, eco-anxiety is not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It implies that it is not officially considered a diagnosable condition. Mental health professionals use the term eco-anxiety within the field of ecopsychology. Ecopsychology deals with the psychological relationship of people and nature, and its impacts on their identity and health.
Exo-anxiety is a relatively new concept. Studies show that extreme climate changes can impact mental health, while it’s still unclear whether anxiety results from awareness or understanding of environmental issues.
A 2018 Yale University report suggests that about 21% of people in the US are “very worried” about global warming. According to a national survey conducted in 2018, in the United States, almost 70% of people are “worried about climate change,” and about 51% feel “helpless.”
Symptoms of eco-anxiety
The American Psychological Association (APA) has pointed out that the symptoms of eco-anxiety can manifest as:
trauma and shock
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Feeling scared and helpless
Who does it affect?
The impact of environmental damages does not affect everyone in uniformity. Some people are more intensely worried about ecological issues. The vulnerability of extreme weather conditions and climate change is different for different parts of the world. Some parts of the world are more vulnerable, including coastal areas and low-lying areas. People whose livelihood depends on the environment, including agriculture, tourism, and fishing, are more likely to be affected. There are several groups of people who are more vulnerable to experience eco-anxiety, including people displaced from their native lands, migrants forced to leave, people who have preexisting mental health or physical health conditions, people belonging to lower socioeconomic status, children, teens, and older adults.
Tips for managing eco-anxiety
If you are feeling anxious about the environment, global warming, and climate change, here is a list of tips for managing your eco-anxiety.
1) Getting educated:
Educating and getting accurate information about the environment and the impending doom can empower marginalized communities. Getting educated prepares you for a crisis. Incorrect pieces of information, as well as lack of information, makes it even more challenging to find solutions to a problem that is as abstract as climate change.
2) Collective effort:
Individual action is not enough to get where you want to be, but working with other like-minded people can have a meaningful impact. You can work in collaboration with your mayor, local councilors, and MPs also apply to your banks and pension providers for lending you funds for investing in fossil fuels. Psychotherapist Mary-Jayne Rust suggests changing your lifestyle per your values, including consuming less meat and dairy products, less driving, and refrain from buying and disposing of so many products.
3) Making your home energy efficient:
You can make your home energy efficient by installing insulation and draught-proof windows and doors and reducing your heating. When your home is energy efficient, you feel in control of your consumption. However, the government supports is required to build and improve the energy efficiency of your homes.
4) Frequent flyers can cut down on flying:
An analysis from 2014 suggests that 15 percent of the adults in Great Britain account for 70 percent of flights taken. So people who take more than three flights a year can make the most difference by cutting down on flying. The Graham Institute suggests switching flights from business class to standard class. It ensures efficient usage of a plane’s capacity.
5) Nurture and protect local green spaces:
Getting involved in community environmental projects for protecting and nurturing green spaces is not only good for your mental health but apparently for the environment as well. Nurturing and protecting local green spaces can increase carbon dioxide absorption, cool urban areas, reduce flood risk, and provide habitats for wildlife. A recent study also found that spending two hours a week outdoors in nature can improve your mental health.
6) Taking action
Taking positive actions, helping others can eventually help reduce and manage stress anxiety and have proven psychological benefits. Some positive actions can include:
teaching others about good environmental practices
volunteering with an environmental group
changing your lifestyle and making greener choices
recycling and following a sustainable diet, such as eating less meat and dairy products
7) Improving your resiliency:
People who have excellent resilient skills are better at reducing, managing, and overcoming there stress and anxiety as compared to people with not-so-excellent resilient skills. According to APA, there are several ways to improve your resiliency skills:
Not regarding problems as unsolvable.
Making realistic goals and taking definitive actions.
Nurturing personal relationships
Connecting with like-minded people
Bonus- Getting active:
Regular exercise, walking, running, cycling, yoga, and meditation can help in reducing and managing anxiety. People who regularly cycle or walk to work are at a lower risk of experiencing commuting stress. It is also essential to often disengage because without our realizing it, news, politics, and social media platforms can have a negative impact on our mental health.