Feeling overwhelmed by eco anxiety? Here are 8 ways to start taking care of yourself when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed by the environmental crisis.
Those of us who care about the environment are generally pretty caring people. But being a sensitive and caring person can leave you open to a wide range of feelings that are often overwhelming. And given the fact we are getting some real life experience of climate crisis, for many of us feelings of anxiety and helplessness are running high.
The thought of how much work there is to be done, the pain of loss and tragedy associated with natural disasters, the sense of hopelessness as our politicians dither; these things are all deeply unsettling.
But allowing eco anxiety, fear based voices and panic to take over your thoughts can be paralysing. And being paralysed by fear is not an effective state to be in when we have so much work to do to turn this ship around.
It can sometimes feel selfish to stop and look after ourselves when there are so many other things needing our care and attention out there. But self care is essential. Filling your own cup will mean you have the energy to pour into the fight to save our planet.
Turning inward is not turning away from the crisis that is happening, or trying to block it out. It is a way of sustaining yourself, and it is essential work.
Many self-soothing techniques used by psychologists are useful when coping with the myriad of strong emotions that environmental catastrophes can conjure. And nature can help too. Here are some ideas for things that might help when you’re feeling environmental overwhelm.
Get in touch with some weeds
Weeds are incredible. Whether they’re busting out of the footpath or springing up in your neighbour’s lawn, weeds are a testament to the force and resilience of life on earth.
When we’re faced with the thought of extinction of many species, or the destruction of fragile ecosystems it can be comforting to think of weeds. The force of life in nature is bigger than humans.
Don’t take on inappropriate responsibility for others’ karma
Caring people can often try to ‘solve’ others problems for them, but psychologists tell us this can often lead to an inappropriate sense of responsibility for others actions. Reminding yourself that others must be given the dignity of walking their own path can be a useful way to not “take on” responsibility for mistakes we see others making.
This doesn’t mean we stop criticising our politicians or taking to the streets to call for action. But it does mean accepting that you are not personally responsible for the problems of the world, or the cruelty and greed of it’s people. And this acceptance can be emotionally liberating.
Plant some seeds
Taking a walk in nature or just sitting outdoors can be difficult when the weather is depressingly hot, or your town is covered in hazardous smoke haze. But one thing you can do indoors is plant some seeds and watch them grow.
Prepare for the coming season by planning what you will plant, and sowing some of the seeds ahead of time. Planting something that will germinate quickly and with force (like beans, peas and corn) can be very life affirming.
Just remember that legumes hate being transplanted, so making your own scrap paper pots is the best way to ensure they transfer happily to the ground.
Get some exercise
When possible, get physical. Turn your compost, ride to work, guerrilla plant some trees on your footpath.
There are solid links between physical activity and mental equanimity. Our bodies were made to be worked. So if you’re finding reading the news stressful, this is the time to turn it off and go break a sweat.
Let some laughter in
Play charades with your family, watch a comedy, catch up with someone who you know can make you smile. Humour is absolutely a coping mechanism for disaster and it diffuses tension.
Use your hands
Getting crafty can relieve tension and promotes mindfulness. Having small, project-based goals can also increase your sense of achievement and wellbeing.
It’s easy to get guilty about all the things you’re not doing, so choose something small and that you actually enjoy, and start with that.
Be kind to yourself
Avoid beating yourself up if you’re not doing anything on this list! Be sweet to yourself. Put your hand on your heart and console yourself with kindness.
Chances are if you’re reading this you’re a very caring person, and you don’t deserve to be treated unkindly, especially by yourself! The world needs people who care.
Reach out to others
We are all in this together, and many of us are feeling a great deal of mental stress in these strange times. If you are feeling like your mood is being impacted such that it’s disrupting your daily ability to function, please seek professional support.