Is your fear about climate change taking over your life? You’re not alone. NH investigates
The difficult thing about eco anxiety, and overcoming it, is it is a valid worry. While we may catastrophise in other areas of our life – worrying about whether our partner might leave us, or we may get fired from our job, or develop a terrible rare disease, the state of the planet has never been more talked about. “The media coverage, public protests and social sharing of climate change causes an intense fear of environmental collapse,” explains Angelina Nizzardi, a wellness coach specialising in anxiety and panic disorder (greengoddesswellness.com). “The sheer magnitude of the problem is overwhelming for many people. Combine this with feeling like you have little or no control in the matter and anxiety and even panic can naturally arise.” So unless we close our eyes and ears to the news, it’s no surprise that some of us are becoming a little worried.
“Eco-anxiety can manifest in many different ways,” agrees David James Lees, wellbeing expert and co-founder of Wu Wei Wisdom (wuweiwisdom.com). “It can be a mild but constant background worry or, taken to the extreme, it can lead to a state of severe panic. These emotions can also be mixed with a sense of anger, grief, hopelessness, despair and depression.”
At its worst, worry about the climate crisis can cause a great deal of stress on the body. “The health impact of eco anxiety is no less damaging than any other cause of anxiety,” Angelina explains. “When we hear continual catastrophic environmental statistics, it triggers the primitive part of the brain responsible for the fear response in the body. This engages the sympathetic nervous system, which is turn switches on the acute stress response.
“The amygdala begins the process and sends messages to the hypothalamus, raising the alarm. The hypothalamus activates the pituitary gland which actives the adrenal gland, which secretes the hormones adrenalin, cortisol and noradrenalin. These hormones trigger the flight or fight response.”
We’re right to be concerned about climate change, but balancing this concern with protecting your own mental health should be a top priority. Angelina says that mindfulness can interrupt the automatic catastrophic thoughts that can kick-start our self-preserving fight-or-flight response in the face of danger. “While we can’t single handily solve the planet’s problems overnight, we can consciously control how we respond to them,” she says. “Action and attention can be life savers when dealing with anxious episodes. Combine the two by organising a beach clean-up or local talk. Focus your attention on a positive and proactive act that limits your worry and makes you feel more in control.
“If you find your thoughts running away with you, practising mindful meditation can be very useful in quietening the mind. Following the movement of breath as you inhale and exhale might be simple but it’s very effective. Combine it with a simple mantra: ‘peace’ with the in-breath, and ‘calm’ on the out breath. Sitting quietly and adopting this mindful practice is both grounding and relaxing. It can create space and perspective around eco worries.
“Walking meditation in nature is also an anchoring practice,” she adds. Take time to walk in the great outdoors, noticing all the amazing natural sights and sounds, the season and sensations in the body.
“Strive for equanimity,” she continues. “When we consciously encompass a broader perspective, it reduces the narrow and often negative response we have to a terrifying statistic or news report on climate change. If you ingest lots of negative environmental information, look to balance this with positive information, projects and innovation. Band together on social media with like-minded eco warriors and introduce a sunnier and proactive influence.”
Wellness coach Alexandra Lees, and the other co-founder of Wu Wei Wisdom, says these practical steps can protect yourself from anxiety:
1. Talk about it: Don’t avoid, deny or internalise extreme emotions associated with eco-issues as this will only make matters worse. Instead, speak to a trusted friend or therapist, or join a local group of like-minded people where you can share and discuss your concerns. Writing a journal and putting your thoughts down on paper can also help. This process of opening up will help you calm your mind and emotions, gain clarity in your thinking, and pave the way for positive action.
2. Widen your perspective: Rather than only giving attention to ‘negative’ worst-case scenario eco-outcomes, it can be helpful to also write out a list of all other possible outcomes. This can include both ‘positive’ resolutions and ‘neutral’ outcomes. We can’t know for certain what the future holds, but it’s important to broaden our perspective to accommodate all realistic possibilities.
3. Take local action: Just because ecoissues are global in scale it doesn’t mean you can’t make an impact as an individual, or at a local level. Take back control and shift from a mindset of helplessness to one of resiliency by planning how you can make small changes in your lifestyle that will make a positive impact. This could include choices about what you and your family eat, where you shop or take your holidays, and how you travel. You can also extend your sphere of eco-influence by joining a local activist group that will allow you to take collective action, and raise ecoawareness in your neighbourhood.
Save over £11
when you subscribe today
Exclusive prizes from our Heaven Skincare, Senspa, Green People and more...