Many people are concerned about climate change and the repercussions of continuing the 'business as usual' industrial growth model of living. This concern can motivate us, but can also cause stress, burnout and fatigue, impacting on our ability to take the kind of actions that are imperative to reduce the impacts of climate change. Burn-out and a collapse response may be counterintuitive and lead on to other feelings such as guilt, overwhelm and despair. The term 'Eco-anxiety' is used to classify many uncomfortable sensations with symptoms such as anxiety, uncertainty of the future or a safe future, depression, anger, frustration, sadness, distress, shock, avoidance, grief, fear, feelings of isolation, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, overwhelm, despair, angst, sleeplessness, eating disorders, frustration, rumination, hopelessness, avoidance and addictive behaviours, solastalgia, fatigue and burn-out.
We can choose to view all uncomfortable sensations with courage and curiousity as a 'natural message'. Dr Mike Cohen, founder and director of Project NatureConnect has compiled a list of 54+ senses and sensations, including uncomfortable feelings. These uncomfortable sensations are guiding us to follow other natural attractions that lead to more fulfilling sensations. I remember feeling extreme eco-anxiety during my Ecopsychology studies, Mike guided me; "Create a natural-attraction playground and live in it.” I had no idea what he meant! Following that conversation, I began to explore my innnate connections with nature and express the eco-anxiety feelings. From my personal experience, my Masters in Applied Ecopsychology studies developed into an eco-resilience project "Sustainability of Self, as part of a whole living organism."
In relation to the seriousness of climate change science and the repercussions, I questioned:
What are the psychological impacts of climate change, and how can individuals build resilience to cope with these effects?
How does awareness and education about the severity of climate change influence people's motivation to take action to mitigate the effects?
What are effective strategies for promoting sustainable behavior and environmental responsibility among individuals and communities, and how can these be integrated into our daily lives?
How can ecopsychology help individuals develop a sense of connection and responsibility towards the natural world, and what implications does this have for promoting sustainable behaviour and addressing climate change?
How does developing an understanding of both individual and collective action towards climate change mitigation and adaptation relate to improving human mental health and well-being?
What are the potential benefits of using ecopsychology techniques, such as exposure to nature and outdoor activities, to promote biopsychosocial resilience and well-being in the face of climate change-related stress and ecoanxiety?
The illusion of disconnect with our inner-self and outer-nature (natural world or environment) causes many problems and diseases; within a person, society, and our planets intricate, interconnected systems. We can view these destructive aspects as a consequence of disconnection and when we re-connect, we can allow sensory natural attractions to guide us. This may lead to feeling 'active acceptance.'
I've invented the phrase 'active acceptance' to make sence of the learnings from my complex journey from despair to empowerment:
I understand and accept the seriousnes of the science and projected future scenarios.
I acknowledge the trauma of disconnection.
I allow space for the discomfort and uncomfortable sensations.
I reconnect to embody the wider world-view perspective.
I act in the present moment feeling gratitude, love, support and guidance as part of an intricate interconnected web of life, and I allow this to flow through me manifesting in choices and actions I take.
I do this regardless of what the future may be, simply because feels good and right to me, as part of a larger whole living organism.
From over a decade of exploring, researching and facilitating work in the field of Ecopsychology and climate concerns, I realise the answer to mitigate eco-anxiety symptoms is multifaceted, difficult to condense and relate to without experiencing. I have gathered a suite of practices and tools and classified these generally into 3 categories; Self, Community and Environment. Along with a brief explanation, there are some aspects to ponder and action ideas to support well-being and build resilience. I offer these in the spirit of care and concern for you and your ability to function, find joy and bringing your best self forward.
1. SELF: Taking physical actions often helps reduce our feelings of despair and overwhelm, but sometimes we don't feel capable to take actions, they may be difficult to take alone or we may seek guidance and support. Self-care is a priority because our body cannot be healthy, have the resilience or energy to take meaningful actions without good physical health.
Taking a 'climate action' must include taking care of ourselves.
When we feel healthy and strong, we understand the context and our relationship to something greater than us, and we are more energised and capable to do things we care about.
Check-in with yourself. Listening to body messages of feelings inside. Think of a number between 1 and 10 for how you feel overall. (1 being poor and 10 being wonderful) Imagine your feelings as messages from one part of your body to another part. Imagine you are an explorer on a mission to find 'context' for the feeling, the feeling is a message that may be related to something outside of your human body.
Ask yourself: Is the pain I feel something in my body or the wider environment? Do I see my pain reflected in my outter world? (Community or environment) Can I identify and label some of these feelings? Do I need to take a self-care action or do something else? What action can I take that will make me feel better? Our body does so much work for us so we need to pay attention to what it needs to be healthy. Is my action right now to share how I am feeling with a trusted friend or support person, meditate and get an early night's sleep, have a bath, eat healthier food, drink water, breathe slowly and deeply, spend time in nature, or plan a future climate action when we feel the confidence and support from a wider like-minded community?
1) Imagine taking an action as an 'adventure' rather than a 'big challenge.' Arrange to do something with other people, it's often more fun to do things with others. We often feel extra good when we take actions that are meaningful to us, feel a sense of purpose, and where we use our skills and strengths and can see results. Some of our actions can be big and ambitious, but others should focus on the present moment and in the easily achievable near-future.
2) It is helpful to see news about all kinds of wonderful constructive actions other people are taking around the world. It is not helpful to consume too much overwhelming or scary information, especially when it is related to what may or may not happen in the future. You may choose to not watch the news for a while, and consciously not engage in climate news for some time as a startegy for self-care. This may provide you with the energy to focus on what you enjoy, what is in your control and what feels meaningful to you. You can choose to find some positive, construtive news to digest instead.
3) Keep a notebook of feelings and what the context is; what is happening around you that could be a reaction to feeling this sensation, who do you talk with (list 3 support buddies) and what actions you find useful to take when feeling depleeted, exhausted or any othe the symptoms of eco-anxiety. Start to create a tool box of self-care actions and resources that you personally find helpful.
2. COMMUNITY: Relationships and connection are important and knowing who is part of our support network is very helpful. It is made up of people who we can rely on, they are good listeners, they help and care about us, and we feel safe and secure with them. These people listen deeply, don't try to fix problems, instead, they respectfully allow us time to talk and process our own thoughts and feelings. We can ask for and trust their guidance and advice. These supportive relationships may also be found with a professional, a mate, or in a support group.
Ask yourself: When you think of actions, is it something you are comfortable doing alone or feel challenged when thinking about doing them? If you feel challenged, think of it as an 'adventure' and who from your support network may share this sense of purpose and adventure with you?
1) List who is in your support network, talk with them about the importance of this role to you and ask if you can contact them as a support buddy. Look at other groups and resources for support. For professional help, contact your GP or phone a help line (noted below)
2) Be agreat buddy to others and practice ‘deep listening’ non-judgemental, compassionate and allowing the person to express themselves so that they feel they are validated with having their own experience and may come to their own conclusions simply by talking with you. Ask questions and offer advise if they consent or ask.
3) It can be rewarding to be part of other people’s support networks and often feels good to share, learn from and help others. Offer to be a support buddy to someone.
3. ENVIRONMENT: Spending time in nature around us is like magic. We need nature to live, we are given fresh air, clean water, nutritious food to keep our body healthy, and being with nature also calms our body down so we feel less stressed. Nature provides us with many benefits. I have learned to tune-in with nature following applied ecopsychology practices to live in my 'natural attraction playground' a fun, healing, rejuvenating and nurturing space.
Ask yourself: What do you find attracts you in Nature? (Natural Attractions often guide us to more fulfilling sensations) Notice all the senses you are using, sight, sounds, feelings on your skin, feeling curious, a sense of awe, mystery, or beauty. Can you notice any from the 54+ senses and sensations list?
1) Take deep slow breaths of fresh air. Notice where in your body you feel sensory messages and what you appreciate about these feelings. Can you think of 3 things you are grateful for right here, right now?
2) We can talk with our pets, plants, and nature and imagine them talking back. Take a photo, write a story or poem, or create artwork, and share this special time with someone.
3) Plant some seeds or create a recycled insect habitat for some fun practical nature-reconnecting activities.
S.O.S (Sustainability of Self...as part of a whole living organism) was born from findings whilst undertaking a Masters in
Ecopsychology. While studying behaviours that lead to disrespect and blatant disregard for our natural world, I realised that viewing oneself as separate to the biosphere in which we live, ignores and disrespects the relationships we have that support our very existence. We must re-connect to perceive ourselves as part of a whole living organism to find the wholeness we are seeking. For more information and additional support, please register and see SOS activities, events and groups.
If you are feeling the need for professional help please contact:
Lifeline: 131 114 Kids Helpline (13-25 yr olds): 1800 551 800 Beyond Blue: Ph 1300 22 4636
Psychology for a Safe Climate with climate-focused psychologists, education, and advice.