How to deal with ecoanxiety

Ecoanxiety – worrying about the environment and climate change – is a perfectly reasonable reaction to the current state of the world.

But when this fear takes over your every waking moment (and the times you’re supposed to be sleeping, too), that’s an issue that needs tackling.

Think about it like this: It’s a great thing to care about the earth and to put in work to save it, but you need to be in good health to do that. When ecoanxiety is overwhelming, it prevents you not only from enjoying life, but being able to take action, too.

So we can’t let ecoanxiety run rampant, no matter how well-meaning it may seem.

But how can we tackle what’s becoming an increasingly common state of mind?

‘We are all being exposed to increasing amounts of negative predictions about the future of our environment, alongside witnessing concerning events across the world,’ psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Grace Warwick tells ‘

‘Within that context worrying about our environment and our own futures is a natural response.

‘Worry is thinking about the future in a negative manner and anxiety is the body’s response to those thoughts in the form of an activated threat response system.

‘That system is designed to help us reach safe short-term outcomes through fighting, fleeing or freezing in dangerous situations. Therefore, we can see that when we are dealing with a long-term issue, such as changes in our environment, these short-term mechanisms do not serve us well.

‘What they actually do is impede our ability to function and go about our day. Symptoms include insomnia, irritability, physical shaking, an inability to concentrate, upset stomach and many more.

‘The impact of remaining in such a state of worry and anxiety long term can be a sense of overwhelm, emotional burn out and feelings of hopelessness. These can be exacerbated if we do not feel that those around us share our concerns.’

It’s important that if you are struggling with ecoanxiety, you don’t dismiss the very real effect this is having.

When anxiety of any sort is impinging on your life in harmful ways, it’s vital that you seek professional help, whether that’s in the form of medication or counselling – ecoanxiety is no different.

Waiting lists for therapy are long, however, and even when you do lock in some sessions, treatment can’t be limited just to that one-hour weekly session.

There are some self-care tasks you can try in the meantime to tackle ecoanxiety both in the moment and long-term.

Do what you can

The very real threat of the climate crisis can leave you feeling helpless. You can become paralysed; believing there’s nothing you can do to stem the looming wave of danger.

It’s important that those having a powerful emotional response to the state of the world use this as motivation to act.

Have a think about concrete actions you can take to leave the world a better place than you found it. That might be something as simple as swapping a car journey for a bike ride or it could be larger actions, such as campaigning, protesting, or doing river cleanups.

The key is knowing that you’re doing something – so you feel a little more in control – but recognising that the entire woes of the world cannot rest on your shoulders alone.

Do what you can, and focus on this – not the stuff you’re not capable of changing.

Think about the long-haul

Reaching burnout won’t help you or the planet.

Remind yourself that you can’t do everything right now, at this moment, and ensure you’re looking after your personal energy to keep up long-term momentum.

‘Think of it as preparing for a marathon rather than the burst of energy needed for a sprint,’ says Grace. ‘We need to develop balanced, long term mental and emotional strategies.’

Understand the threat response

Ecoanxiety can be an extremely physical experience, culminating in shortness of breath, a pounding heart, and disocciation.

Learning about this can help make panic attacks and other physical responses to fear feel less scary. Your body is preparing to deal with what it sees as an immediate threat, getting you ready to physically fight, flee, or freeze.

It’s worth equipping yourself with some techniques to soothe this reaction in the moment. Try breathing exercises, or a grounding technique like the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method.

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