“Being ecologically conscious is like living in a world of wounds.” –– Aldo Leopold
Staying positive in the face of the climate crisis can be difficult. Really difficult.
Lately, it’s felt like every day a story is published about a new threat facing our shared home.
From the collapse of permafrost in the Arctic to our forests burning, to the devastation our oceans are experiencing from pollution and acidification –– all of this destruction can overwhelm us when we face it alone.
If you have ever felt depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or angry about the lack of response to the biggest crisis to ever face humanity, please know that there’s an entire community of environmentally aware people who are right there with you.
So many of us fight through these negative emotions every day.
“Climate Change Depression”, “Climate Grief”, “Climate Anxiety”, and “Eco Anxiety” are all terms that describe the effects of the climate crisis on mental health.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and drained by the enormity of everything, especially when we think about it altogether.
A Yale survey taken last year found that climate-related anxiety is rising in the U.S. with 62 percent of people surveyed reporting they were at least “somewhat” worried about our climate, up from 49 percent in 2010.
The rate of those who described themselves as “very” worried was 21 percent, about double the rate of a similar study in 2015.
Out of everybody surveyed, only 6 percent felt that humans can and will prevent the climate crisis.
The most difficult aspect of overcoming climate change depression is that the dread we’re feeling is real.
Most of the time when people have anxiety, it can be boiled down to cognitive distortions and misrepresentations of reality.
For example, someone experiencing intense social anxiety might feel real fear and panic when they’re in social situations. However, this fear isn’t based in reality: their life isn’t really in danger –– their bodies and minds are just convinced they are.
But when it comes to eco anxiety, there is a real, present, and scientifically measurable danger that we’re worried about.
Unfortunately, most of us choose to keep our feelings of overwhelm to ourselves because of the way others tend to react, leaving us without emotional support.
The same Yale survey I just mentioned also found that the majority of people discuss climate change “rarely” or “never”. Compare that statistic to the fact that most people are worried about our climate and don’t think that we’re ultimately going to do anything about it, and it’s easy to see why Google searches for “climate depression” are at an all-time high.
Isn’t it kind of weird how so many of us share this feeling of dread, but we never really talk about it?
Often times environmentalists –– especially activists and scientists –– feel isolated because of the strong dampening in public discourse around climate change in much of the mainstream media.
Climate change deniers, rather than actual climatologists, are given a platform on national news.
News stories centered around invalidating and mocking individuals concerned about our future air on major television networks such as Fox News, which is notorious for spreading misinformation about our environmental situation.
Even the news organizations that understand and respect science refrain from mentioning the climate crisis due to fear of bad ratings.
It’s no surprise that so many of us have a difficult time emotionally coping with the effects of climate change.
So, what can we do to feel better from the eco anxiety?
Eco anxiety and climate grief are especially tricky beasts to tame. It’s no surprise, given that they’re caused by our knowledge of the greatest crisis that humanity has ever faced.
Often times, the typical methods for coping with anxiety and depression (like exercising and addressing our thought patterns) don’t really work that well for eco anxiety because these approaches can feel a lot like burying our heads in the sand. Regardless of how much “positive thinking” we do, the climate crisis speeds onward.
My own personal experience with eco anxiety has been tumultuous, at best. For a while, I didn’t really mind being super depressed about our environment because I at least knew that I was fully bearing witness to the havoc humanity is wreaking on our planet and its inhabitants. I would have taken my knowledge-induced depression over blissful ignorance any day.
This black-and-white thinking led me to eventually lose joy in all of the things I’d previously loved. It got to the point where I couldn’t even go on a hike or enjoy looking at photos of wildlife without crying for our collective loss. Rather than appreciating and fighting for the wildlife and nature we still have left (which is actually quite a lot!), I accepted defeat and mourned for losses that hadn’t even happened yet.
That continued for well over a year until I realized that my emotional martyrdom was doing nobody any good –– including myself.
Eventually, the self-gratification of my eco anxiety became less important to me than my own inaction.
Nothing made me feel worse than knowing so much about the climate crisis and not doing anything other than wallowing about it.
The challenge with climate change depression is to not completely shut ourselves down.
As people who genuinely understand the severity of our situation, it’s important that we stay engaged and do our best to make a difference.
According to the UN, we still have time –– roughly ten years –– to change course and mitigate the worst effects of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.
The first positive step we can take is to fully confront and address our uncomfortable feelings about the ecological crisis rather than dismissing or denying them. The next step is to get out there and do something.
Quite a few things, actually!
Did you know that in the United States, even the people with the lowest usage of energy are still producing, on average, more than double the global per-capita average of carbon emissions?
That amounts to roughly 20 metric tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions per person in the US!
While it’s absolutely true that we need international, systemic changes to the way that humanity interacts with our environment, it’s also true that we can make sizable impacts just by living more sustainably.
Just reducing your waste and going vegan isn’t going to get rid of your climate depression, though.
(In fact, once you start learning about the extent of plastic pollution, factory farming, and the consequential pain and suffering of animals on our planet –– it might even get worse. Trust me, I know this firsthand.)
If I was able to pull myself out of the ecological pit of despair and move into a healthy and productive space, so can you.
The rest of this article will cover the 7 impactful steps I took to cope with my climate grief and eco anxiety.
1. Find friends who sympathize with your eco anxiety and depression
Have you ever felt like the house is on fire and nobody seems to care enough to even mention it?
Let’s face it, nobody really wants to talk about existential doom.
Nothing can spark a lively conversation at dinner like “Hey, so did you hear about the U.N. report that 1 million species face extinction and humanity will suffer as a result?“.
Most people don’t even want to look at their bank statements –– let alone think about the fact that humans are irreversibly destroying this planet for ourselves, wildlife, and future generations.
Caring about the environment can be deeply isolating. Just search on Reddit or any other online forum and you’ll find an increasingly substantial amount of posts from people reaching out about climate change depression and eco anxiety.
Social isolation and loneliness have been closely linked to depression.
The first and most important thing you should do if you’re experiencing depression or anxiety related to environmental problems is to find community and support.
The Internet can be a great place to meet people and to have conversations with likeminded individuals.
Other places where you might be able to find community and support are local sustainability organizations, environmental groups like Sunrise Movement, and local governmental meetings about sustainability issues.
Finding community and support is actually the reason why I started eco ally. 🙂
P.S. If you’re interested in starting your own blog for the same reason, check out this post.
2. Join environmental activism efforts
Make your voice heard!
Whether you’re interested in playing with rescued animals at your local shelter or see yourself leading the next climate protest in your city, you’ll feel a lot better once you start using your knowledge to make a tangible difference in our society.
I can’t stress enough how much of a positive experience it can be to get out there, do good, and meet others who also want to take time out of their day to help our environment.
Not only will you make new friends, but you’ll also be able to feel pretty damn good about yourself for actually taking action.
To get started in environmental activism, check out this post on eco ally: The Introvert’s Guide to Environmental Activism.
Become familiar with the local bills and initiatives in your city and look into petitioning for them.
Whenever it’s time for an election, do everything you can to get your friends and family to the voting booths and inform them about the ways their decisions could impact sustainability.
By supporting causes you believe in, you’ll be able to make a direct impact toward making the world a better place.
I spend a few hours every week volunteering for the Humane Society where I bottle feed baby kittens, and I also write a weekly article for a local sustainability organization –– usually about topics like biodiversity, urban forestry, and renewable energy. In addition to that, I’m highly involved in local political organizing efforts to move forward sustainable legislation and raise public awareness of the climate crisis. Out of everything I’ve done in an attempt to manage my eco anxiety, this has helped the most.
If there isn’t an already established group in your area, you can take on the role of an eco ally and lead your community with a new organization or meetup.
3. Stay updated on positive environmental news
Being involved in the sustainability movement can be really depressing because of the constant barrage of negativity from the media.
Although it’s really important to share the reality of what’s happening to our planet, it can be really disheartening to constantly see doom and despair in the news.
Positive news stories and studies will help keep you going and inspire you to continue working towards a better future.
GreenBiz highlights the steps existing businesses are taking towards sustainability as well as new bright minds in sustainability, technology, and business.
It’s hard not to be inspired after reading a few articles about major companies switching to renewable energy and plant-based proteins.
One last place where I’ve found a massive dose of environmental optimism is in TED talks.
Once you start delving into these videos and learning about the incredible solutions we’ve already discovered to some of our most challenging problems (like avoiding catastrophic drought), you’ll have a hard time holding onto pessimism about the future.
4. Learn about eco-minimalism and sustainable living
There’s no better feeling than knowing that your lifestyle is in harmony with our planet.
Every day, we make decisions that either help or harm our planet –– from the products we buy to the food we eat.
Whether it’s how we get to work, what we eat for lunch, or where we go to buy a new pair of pants, we’re constantly playing a game of push and pull with the planet and the individuals living on it.
Here are seven things you can do to live more sustainably:
- Shop locally and responsibly
- Eat an Earth-friendly diet (avoid animal products, palm oil, etc.)
- Drive less
- Reduce your waste as much as possible by avoiding plastics, packaging, and single-use products
- Recycle and compost
- Plant native species in your garden or on your apartment balcony
- Share your sustainable lifestyle upgrades on social media to inspire others
If you want to learn more about sustainable living, check out this post on eco-minimalism.
If you’re a skeptic and don’t really think sustainable living is going to make a difference anyway, read this post instead.
5. Choose an environmentally-conscious career path
If you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, why not do something to help the environment?
I’ve found pursuing eco-entrepreneurship has helped me find a greater sense of purpose in my life and has drastically decreased my feelings of helplessness and eco anxiety.
Out of all of the steps I’ve listed in this article, I believe that this one can have the greatest overall impact on your life.
As sustainability becomes an increasingly important issue on a global scale, these career opportunities are quickly growing:
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
- Sustainable architecture
- Urban planning
- Social media influencing
- Green investment advising
- Wave energy production
- Urban farming
- Environmental activism and organizing
- Impact blogging
- Water and air quality engineering
- Climatology, biotechnology
Even if it’s just a side-hustle, working on a project that’s environmentally positive will help you feel like you’re accomplishing something for yourself and for our planet.
6. Spend time enjoying our beautiful planet
If you’ve ever taken a hike in the backcountry then you already know about the healing powers of nature.
If you haven’t, get outside immediately!
There are hundreds of national parks and conservation areas just waiting to be explored by you.
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a trip out to the countryside and reconnect to your roots.
There’s a link between depression and urban environments, so if you live in a city there’s a good chance that your eco anxiety is being exacerbated by your living environment.
Try to spend time in nature at least a few times a month. If the wilderness isn’t accessible to you, a visit to your local park will do the trick too.
If you want to feel extra good in nature, head out with a dry-bag and pick up any trash you see along the way!
You’ll be feeling like a steward of our planet in no time. 🙂
7. Give yourself a break
The last thing you can do to pull you out of climate change depression is to spend time doing something other than worrying about our environment.
I know better than anyone that it’s easy to spend an entire day dwelling on the climate crisis and reading countless studies and articles online predicting catastrophe.
Just stop. Give yourself a break for a while.
It’s okay –– if not necessary –– to spend time doing something completely unrelated to the environment.
Listen to your favorite record, play with your cat, binge watch some anime, whatever.
It’s okay to disconnect when you feel the need to.
It’s okay to just slow down and sit with the present moment and simply be.
It’s okay to take it easy, enjoy the pleasures in life and have some fun!
These are all necessary for the sake of maximizing our lives and also for grounding ourselves and recharging so we can keep going.
So listen to your own mental, emotional and physical needs, because only when we feel at our best can we best support those we love, stay resilient in the face of our struggles and roadblocks, and bring about our most creative and committed service and work to this world
Eco anxiety and climate depression can be really difficult to approach and overcome because it’s so deeply rooted in reality, but with the right approach, you can dig yourself out and make a positive impact for our environment with your life on a daily basis.
By following the steps outlined in this article, you’ll be able to cope with eco anxiety and eco grief in the healthiest way possible.
If anything in this article struck a chord with you, feel free to comment and let’s talk about it. 🙂
After all, that’s why I started eco ally in the first place!