Action is the best way to quell your eco-anxiety

LUXEMBOURG CITY – I was scrolling through Instagram, trying to escape reality for just five minutes, when I first came across the word “eco-anxiety”. I’d never heard the term before. Yet, the more I learn about it, the more I recognise the feeling.

I’ve been following designer and environmentalist Finn Harries for a long time now. I don’t know anything about design, but I like his content on how architecture can respond to the climate crisis.

Last summer, he posted the following message: “I’ve been battling with my mental health over the last couple of months. A big part of it is driven by the environmental crisis we’re facing. This even has its own term: eco-anxiety.”

Seeing his post, I paused to consider if I myself was eco-anxious.

Ms Lynda Sullivan, an earth activist from North Ireland, told me she defines eco-anxiety as a “pain for the world”.

The American Psychological Association, a reference for psychologists, defines it as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”.

According to a survey conducted by Sintra, a Finnish Innovation Fund, in 2019, a quarter of Finns experienced some form of climate anxiety.

Back in January, a YouGov poll said seven in 10 young adults, aged 18 to 24, in the United Kingdom were more worried about climate change than the previous year.

Official data and studies on eco-anxiety remain scarce. Nevertheless, in the last decade, discussions on the effect of climate change on our mental health have finally started to get the attention they deserve.

I’ve been struggling with my mental health since I moved to Belgium from Sao Paulo eight years ago, but I can’t tell how much of my struggle has been linked to the climate crisis. Worries about the world blend with worries about my own life.

I spoke to climate psychologist and researcher Caroline Hickman at the University of Bath about my life choices, slightly compulsive recycling, and how my everyday fears for the planet, though scary, seem normal to me. Climate change was on the news before I was born, after all.

She kindly explained that “anxiety is just one of the feelings people are dealing with (about climate change). People are also struggling with despair and frustration and hopelessness”.

So eco-anxiety might not be the best term; it is a catch-all for a whole range of feelings.

“Eco-anxiety is unlike ordinary anxiety, like worrying about finances or an exam, because this particular problem is not going away,” she said.

In the UK, Professor Hickman is now working to increase awareness among psychotherapists, doctors and teachers “so they can understand people’s distress through the lens of climate emergency”.

Action is no doubt the best solution, for the planet and ourselves.

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