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What to do if you have eco-anxiety

  • Published at 12:47 pm October 6th, 2019
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While climate change worsens due to the apathy of some, others are facing mental health issues due to their concern for the planet

The recent climate protests led by Greta Thunberg have brought much needed attention to the issue of climate change. However, increased awareness and news reporting on climate change may be leading to a new phenomenon called eco-anxiety that is affecting children and parents alike. 

People with eco-anxiety are feeling overwhelming despair over the future of the planet. Children are worried about the future they will face while parents are worrying about the planet they will be leaving for their children.

The CPA or Climate Psychology Alliance makes it clear that eco-anxiety is not a mental illness. It is not like other types of anxiety where people feel worried over irrational things. Climate change is a real problem mankind is facing and anxiety over such a situation cannot be classified entirely as a mental illness. 

Eco-anxiety may not be a mental illness but it is, however, a mental health issue. Natural disasters caused by a changing climate will directly impact many people which can lead to lasting mental health problems for them in the future. Even those not affected directly are feeling concerned over what might happen in the future.

Children especially are susceptible to eco-anxiety because of their developing organs and nervous systems, according to the American Psychological Association. The CPA has a few guidelines on how to communicate climate change to children.

Parents should start by acknowledging known facts and then asking the children how they feel and then admitting that the ultimate outcome is uncertain. Parents should then introduce some steps that they can all take as a family to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce their effect on the environment. It is very important that children learn about climate change but they must be taught about it without being scared. 

Eco-anxiety doesn’t just affect children however, anyone can be affected by it and the American Psychological Association gives some important insight into how to cope with eco-anxiety.

Build belief in one’s own resilience

Having belief in one’s own capacity to overcome hardship is associated with fewer symptoms of depression and PTSD after a natural disaster.

Foster optimism 

Finding some positivity in a difficult situation can help to foster resilience. However, there should be a balance as over-optimism can lead to disappointments.

Cultivate active coping and self-regulation 

Resilient individuals have the ability to be conscious about their thoughts and can self-regulate themselves by thinking of long-term goals rather than short-term impulses.

Find a source of personal meaning

Keeping faith in one’s own religion or even meditation and mindfulness can help keep a sense of calm in a difficult situation.

Boost personal preparedness

If you are feeling anxious about something that may happen such as a storm or flood, it may help make yourself prepared for such an event for example: by stocking up on dry food and making an emergency kit.

Support social networks 

Staying connected to a social network of friends or neighbours can help to foster optimism. These people can provide much needed emotional support in times of need. In the case of a natural disaster, neighbours often help each other by providing material support as well, such as, by providing food or a temporary place to live.

Encourage connection with parents, family, and other role models

This is particularly important for children. Children will look up to parents, family or other role models to learn how to manage their emotions. These people can act as beacons of hope in times of despair.

These are just a few coping methods that can ease the pain of eco-anxiety but the fact remains that the only solution is to do something practical about the situation at hand. Every person needs to be doing their bit by reducing their carbon footprint. Children need to be taught how to live in this world of changing climate without becoming overcome by fear. Because the truth is that while many people will be affected by climate change, it does not necessarily mean the end of all humanity. There is still hope and sometimes all you can do is focus on the positives.