Everywhere you look, you see impending doom. A disaster just waiting to happen—or it’s already happening. Plastic by the roadside, the beach, the oceans. Empty boba tea plastic cups in the trash. Waste is not segregated properly. Perpetual meat supply in unhealthy fast food restaurants. Cars everywhere. Fast fashion brands thriving. Overconsumption.

If all that has brought up a feeling of unease, worry or distress, your feelings are valid. It’s a rational fear of the 21st century in a climate crisis. What you may be feeling in relation to the destruction around you is eco anxiety. And you’re not alone in feeling this way.

What Is Eco Anxiety?

Eco anxiety or solastalgia is the distress caused by environmental change. It’s not an officially recognised physical or mental disorder but it’s real nonetheless.

You may feel sad, angry or hopeless and wonder, “What’s the point of all this?

You may also experience panic attacks or something that triggers avoidance actions. If this distress materialises as physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and sweating and affects your day-to-day life, it’s best to seek professional help. Such symptoms may become similar to Generalised Anxiety Disorder for which treatment is available.

The key is to identify how severe your eco anxiety is and address the problem before it gets out of hand.

12-Step Recovery Process From Eco Anxiety

For those of you who are experiencing a severe form of eco anxiety, please do seek professional help. This article is meant as a self-help guide for you to try to overcome the distress and hopefully be at a much better place despite everything external that is going on.

1. Cry it all out

There’s nothing better than letting it out non-verbally and tearfully. When you feel emotions clogged up inside you like your heart is about to burst, it’s a sign that you need to cry it out. If you’re not the type who cries, you could also scream or let out your anger on a punching bag. Try not to let it out on another person though as it could hurt you more than it could heal you.

2. Stop and rest

I know you have tons of things to do. But please, just stop. Just for a while. Take a day off, maybe on a Sunday, and don’t touch any work and even social media. Read a book, go for a massage, do an extended skincare regime, go for a walk, or watch a movie. Whatever it is, do something that’s almost mindless and/or relaxing. This is you telling your body to just rest and not worry too much.

3. Journal

This is another way to let it out, but more privately. Writing down what you’re thinking makes it real. What you were thinking a minute ago is now on physical paper. You can actually see your thoughts. Writing validates your thoughts and you can see clearly what you need to work on. You don’t have to buy a fancy Moleskine notebook. Just grab a piece of A4 paper and vomit out whatever’s inside your head. You can later choose to keep it or throw it away (responsibly).

4. Read a book

I used to be an avid reader before working life took over. Adulting is hard, I don’t recommend it to anyone. But reading helps to keep your mind off of reality for a while and see different perspectives. It can give both clarity and pleasure. That’s why it’s worth making reading a part of your habit, if not daily then weekly. It’s also a way to grow your knowledge, expand your horizons and feel differently so you’re not stuck in one depressing view all the time.

5. Spend time in nature

Nature has healing effects. You don’t have to read scientific journals to know this. When you go hiking or even to a neighbourhood park, you’d always come out feeling happy and energised. So if you think you’ve caught the eco anxiety bug, go to the nearest park or even a spot with a bunch of trees and just absorb the healing energy from nature.

6. Talk to someone

If you’re thinking that “no one understands me” or “I have no one to talk to” — STOP. There are people in your life who do want to understand and can lend you an ear. You just have to reach out to people you’ve recently spent time with or you’re most comfortable with and tell them what you’re feeling. It’s not easy being vulnerable to someone else but it’s better than keeping it all in. A conversation does help with achieving clarity of thought so you can get over the eco anxiety phase and start taking action to fight the climate crisis.

7. Write down why you should care

Now that you’ve cleared your mind a bit, it’s time to get back to focusing on what matters to you. Writing down why you should care about the environment and the climate crisis helps to realign your values and emphasise your strengths. Knowing the why will then bring you to the how and lead you to figure out which climate action to take.

8. Get re-educated

We human beings are fickle and we forget the simplest things sometimes. So it doesn’t hurt to re-watch Cowspiracy or re-read Bea Johnson’s “Zero Waste Home”. This time, you have the upper hand. By learning the same thing twice or thrice, you absorb the information better and can then transmit the information to other people in a way you’re comfortable with. If you are in the growth mindset, learning is indeed lifelong and can be enjoyable.

9. Re-assess your lifestyle

Once you’ve done step #8, it’s time to look at your life now. What have you done? What can you do next?

Already saying no to straws? Try to buy everything bulk and package-free.

Already vegan? Try eating more local produce.

Is your day-to-day in alignment with your values? Do you live plastic-free but work for an oil company? Are you vegan but doing marketing for a non-vegan F&B company?

It might seem inconsequential but it adds up. What you do for someone or something as your day job does occupy a space in your mind. And your mind is what drives your energy and intention. I know that we’re all making ends meet here. But we should all strive to align our actions with our values.

10. Join a group

When I lost my spark in the climate cause at one point, I decided to join a climate rally. Being around passionate people who believe in climate justice inspired me and I got back the motivation I needed. Energy is contagious. And it really depends on what kind of people you surround yourself with. So when in eco anxiety, seek community.

11. Speak out

Once you’re back in community action, you’d probably feel much more comfortable being an active advocate. Now you’re ready to speak your mind. You’ll only get to this stage when you’ve taken care of yourself and filled your cup. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

12. Repeat

As the climate crisis continues to plague our lives, it’s important to always come back to this process from time to time. Even better, you may incorporate some of these steps into your daily life so that you may avoid burnout and instead work and be productive in a healthy way. Self-care has become a necessity in this day and age. Only by healing ourselves can we heal the planet.

woman taking selfie
Photo by Omid Armin / Unsplash

Can Eco Anxiety Be Cured?

I used to be worried, distressed and depressed about our current state of the world. But after months of healing practices, I don’t feel anxious anymore. I feel hopeful and perhaps slightly optimistic about the future. This doesn’t mean that I completely disregard the possible dystopic future but I’m choosing to live in the present moment, be a responsible caretaker of earth and do what I can to educate others on this issue.

I know I can’t solve the climate crisis alone and it’s really heartwarming to have people around you who think and feel the same way and are passionate about protecting the environment. I guess after being exhausted from all the “What’s the point of living anymore?” thoughts, I just choose to think “What value can I bring to the table?”, “How can I contribute towards a liveable future?” or even “How can I make myself happy?”

So while you may be in the darkest part of the eco anxiety tunnel and don’t see the way out, I do believe you can alleviate it. You may even see the light at the end of the tunnel. At the very least, you can quieten the anxious thoughts and make them less prominent in your mind. It takes effort and time but as long as you actively seek help and follow the steps to healing, you will come out of the fog at some point. Find comfort in the fact that nothing is temporary, and neither is your eco anxiety.

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