5 Ways to Cope with Eco-Anxiety
If you have ever felt overwhelmed, defeated, frustrated, afraid, sad, angry, guilty, powerless, or hopeless about our future on this planet, you are not alone. Eco-emotions are affecting people’s mental health and overall well-being. Many mental health practitioners are beginning to recognize these emotions within the field of eco-psychology, which explores humans’ psychological interdependence with the rest of nature and the implications for identity, health, and well-being.
Experts anticipate that the number of people experiencing eco-emotions will grow with the changes in our environment and predicted increases in climate-related occurrences.
The emotional experience around environmental issues and changes in climate and biodiversity varies for different people. Some parts of the world and communities are more vulnerable to ecological destruction and degradation. So, naturally, fears and concerns around these issues do not affect everyone equally.
According to the American Psychological Association, children, people with disabilities, certain communities of color, indigenous communities, women, and low-income groups are more vulnerable to experiencing the mental health impacts of climate change.
The terms eco-anxiety, climate distress, and climate anxiety have been used interchangeably in the past few years to describe persistent worries related to our impact on the environment and the associated concern for our future and that of next generations.
What we feel around the destruction of natural ecosystems are normal emotional responses and should not be pathologized. With awareness comes choice. We can take steps to support our mental health and emotional well-being in times of ecological emergency. When we shift our perspective, crises become opportunities. We can emerge and see that a better world is possible.
1. Practice Active Hope
Real hope is a practice. It is something we create rather than something we have. It is not about bypassing; it is about moving through. Active hope is a courageous journey through uncertainty and acceptance that gives us strength, power, and agency. It involves working through our planetary anguish to create space for new visions of the future and taking conscious action to build that future.
When we practice active hope, we move toward the reality we desire. We consciously strengthen our capacity to face global issues and find our unique role within them. Active hope is not about staying positive and waiting to see what happens or waiting for someone to come and save us.
Joanna Macy describes the “Great Turning” as a vital, creative response and full revision of our values and perceptions of our planet. Macy points out that our Earth is our larger living body with vast evolving intelligence. It is not a supply house or a sewer.
Thus, active hope requires full acceptance. Acceptance that the living planet is in danger because of our perceptions of nature and acceptance that there is an inner shift needed from us at this moment in evolution. That shift involves waking up to our true identity as Earth.
Macy encourages us to move from mere passengers on spaceship Earth to fully engaged participants who speak on behalf of this web of life.
If you’d like to learn more about active hope and building practices around it, I encourage you to look into Joanna Macy’s inspiring work.
2. Express your Inner Artist
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word artist?
As a child, the first image that would come to mind was that of a painter with an easel. As I grew up, that visual expanded to more sophisticated images of people creating things with their hands, voices, and other mediums.
Art is not about masterpieces. It is about transformation. It involves taking something from our inner worlds and bringing it outwards to give it a shape in the physical world, however abstract or tangible.
The creative process is one of the most sacred and sublime powers we’ve been gifted as humans. It is pure alchemy and magic. But as mystical as it is, we don’t have to view the creative process as something obscure or impossible to achieve. We are innately creative and wired to create.
In these days of global strife, turmoil, and confusion, giving our emotions a voice is not only necessary but urgent. Creativity is self-expression in all forms. Photography, music composition, writing, singing, making crafts, painting, or creating spoken word poetry can be powerful healing outlets to express how we feel about what our planet is going through. As parts of nature, we are going through it as well. We need to make sense of it in healthy ways.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
~Gospel of Thomas
As a bonus, when you express your feelings and emotions about the ecological crisis through art and share it with others, you might inspire someone to move into action.
Not sure how to get started? Explore the following communities:
Letters to Earth offers a variety of resources and toolkits with prompts and exercises to explore and process these emotions individually or in groups.
Eco-Anxious Stories holds space to normalize these stories and support people in taking meaningful action grounded in courage and compassion.
The Climate Journal Project uses the power of self-reflection and journaling to alleviate eco-emotions.
3. Connect and Build Community
The solutions coming together to solve the climate emergency are not just good for mitigating climate change; they have the potential to build a more just and equitable future for all.
Many people are working on creative and innovative solutions. Go out and find them! Connect with your neighbor and rally up! Is there a cause close to your heart? Maybe you love trees or enjoy gardening. Perhaps there is no composting program in your neighborhood. Find those who care about the same issues you care about and build communities around solutions.
You don’t have to build a garden yourself or be the sole mastermind coming up with laws to protect trees. Getting clear on the causes that break your heart puts you in the direction that moves you forward one step at a time and connects you with others on the same journey.
Connecting with others willing to talk about these issues and share their feelings about the crisis is also a wonderful outlet for our emotions. When we feel seen and witnessed by others experiencing the same, we feel safe and connected. These are the feelings we need to cultivate during these times.
4. Develop your Somatic Intelligence
The body speaks. Movement is a great vehicle to connect with the intelligence of our bodies. Continuing the thread of artistic expression, dancing, drama, theater, and other forms of movement that give the body a voice, are great ways to channel our eco-emotions.
Creative movement can be a potent catalyst for physical, emotional, and psychological healing. Movement also builds somatic awareness, which is about learning from our bodies and bringing to conscious awareness what needs to be addressed.
Somatic awareness teaches us to listen to our bodies intuitively by paying attention to the connection and interplay of our senses, movement, and breath. This kind of awareness builds emotional awareness, which can help us identify individualized tools to regulate our nervous system and cope with our unique eco-emotions in ways that resonate with our bodies.
Sometimes stressful events can overwhelm our nervous system and our ability to cope. Movement allows us to access different parts of our consciousness that are not available through our rational and thinking minds. In other words, we can get out of our heads to process what might be stuck on our bodies.
“When this stuck energy is restored to the whole organism, we can begin to live more fully—to create, accomplish, communicate, collaborate, and share. Instead of being engaged merely in survival, we can then come back to our balanced place…because we have access to all of the energy previously bound up in our freezing and immobility, in our incomplete fight and flight responses.”
~ Peter A. Levine
Other forms of movement like running or going for a walk are great ways to clear our minds and tune into our eco-emotions so we can process them with more clarity.
5. Take Inspired Action
Act on things that light you up! There are multiple solutions you can support and get involved with. Identify what skills or talents you can contribute and find your role within the unfolding crises. Project Drawdown is a great place to start with to get familiar with the intricate system of solutions coming together.
As a school psychologist and education specialist with a mental health background, I found my role in working with children and their eco-emotions. After identifying and understanding my strengths and unique gifts, I felt inspired to create resources, programs, and spaces for children/youth and families to safely explore their eco-emotions and transform them into fuel and inspiration.
One of the activities I do with children is a somatic exercise to teach emotional awareness and cultivate inner resilience. This is a great exercise that helps children understand how they experience different emotions and practice active hope for the future they would like to see.
Through these activities, we transform different emotions into positive expressions or ideas of something they would like to become involved with to support nature’s healing. By healing nature, we heal ourselves.
At the end of our time together, children express their desire to do something nice for the planet, such as planting trees, doing beach clean-ups, helping animals, or connecting more with nature.
Just like coping with any kind of emotion, coping with these complex emotions is a journey that evolves as we jump into it and build our resilience and preparedness to navigate the challenges ahead. Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn about more ways to cope with eco-emotions.
Over to you! What action are you inspired to take?
For A Dose of Hope and Inspiration:
Check out this fun interview with 9-Year-Old Climate Activist Zayne Cowie.
Follow Solarpunk Generation‘s journey and stay tuned for the upcoming podcast, IG lives, and events before the official launch.
Sign up for an upcoming Eco-Circle for Inner Resilience.
Learn about the joyful world of Solarpunk or submit artwork to the Solarpunk Art Contest to be part of this experiment in collective visioning and creation!
Day Sanchez is a bilingual school psychologist, education specialist, and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) facilitator dedicated to supporting the optimal cognitive, creative, spiritual, and social-emotional development of gifted, twice-exceptional (2e), and highly sensitive children and youth. She has over a decade of experience working with gifted and neurodivergent children in public and private schools, nonprofits, and online worldwide.
She creates programs and resources to support children, youth, and families experiencing eco-anxiety and other eco-emotions. Solarpunk Generation was born to help bring the Solarpunk movement to families and the neurodiverse community to create a positive shift in the collective narrative and build a new way forward. Day is on a mission to inspire all children and young visionaries to embody their highest potential, contribute their gifts to the world, and help us accelerate humanity’s evolution.
Leave a ReplyWant to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!