The rise of ‘eco-anxiety’ in an Extinction Rebellion era

In the midst of the US President’s continued active denial of climate change and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s unclear stance on the issue, we sit in the most brutally severe heatwave we’ve had since 1911. It’s easy for anybody to feel discouraged and anxious about the environmental trajectory.

As a student or young person, there are a lot of things in life that tend to make us feel anxious. The looming dread of adulthood, rising rent prices, feeling lost about what you’re going to do with your life, Brexit, the temperature, the temperature, the temperature.

The warmth was nice for a little while but isn’t it getting a little, I don’t know, excessive? And people are protesting at the Houses of Parliament? And stripping naked in the House of Commons? And protesting outside the houses of MPs? Who are the Extinction Rebels?

The full notion of the tragedy that is climate change is unravelling before our eyes. And it’s extremely overwhelming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we have 12 years to fix the crisis. However, a recent BBC article argues that the next 18 months are absolutely vital to acting on our global warming crisis.

According to environment correspondent Matt McGrath, the loss of biodiversity “threatens to unravel the planetary web of life.” One million species are at risk of extinction and human civilisation faces total collapse if radical changes to our socioeconomic system are not made now.

For some people, climate change may feel like an inevitable event that is totally out of our control. For others, the knowledge of this can be overwhelming to the point where they feel powerless.

Yet, since the pioneering 16-year-old Greta Thunberg popularised the climate strikes late last year, the awareness surrounding just how dire the climate crisis is has risen and become more pressing. This has been good for action and productivity, especially with social media becoming a catalyst for global issues and bringing them to the forefront. Many countries, including the UK, have subsequently declared climate emergencies.

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Image Credit: World Economic Forum via Flickr

In one of her most powerful speeches to British MPs, condemning their stance on climate change, Greta said, “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in the solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.”

However, being aware of the current state of the environment doesn’t come without compromise. In this case, it’s towards your mental health – it has a name and, most notably, it’s nothing new. The group that this disorder tends to heavily affect are indigenous communities that live close to the equator as well as those that depend on the natural environment, who can experience disproportionate mental health impacts.

Climate anxiety is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the concern is spreading. The phrase doesn’t have an official meaning, yet variations to the definition exist; such as the broader description explaining it as the “worry or agitation caused by concerns about the present and future state of the environment”.

Eco-anxiety, then, is ultimately having a strong feeling of unease surrounding ecological disasters and threats to the natural environment, such as pollution and climate change. An issue that doesn’t only show physical symptoms, such as insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability and panic attacks, but also the results of a constructive or adaptive reaction associated with pro-environmental attitudes and actions.

A very small number of mental health professionals in the UK have begun to mobilise against the phenomenon, but there are plenty of online forums and support groups gaining momentum.

Whether you’re feeling the heat of eco-anxiety or not, here are just a few simple steps that can help make a difference if you are feeling resigned to climate change doom. As we all know, charity begins at home and no man is an island, yet if we all collectively commit to these small acts, the world will ultimately become a better place. Plus we’d be doing our girl Greta proud.

RECYCLE – Use different bins for different things. Compost, plastics and glass should NOT be going in the same bin.
GO ‘SORT OF’ VEGAN – If you’re not vegan, I am not going to shame you into cutting meat from your diet entirely. However, I will encourage you to eat less pork and beef, and eat more food that uses fewer protein sources, i.e. organic soy.
PACKAGING – A recent viral internet thing has happened where people are calling out supermarkets for their unnecessary amount of plastic use. Think about packaging before you buy products.
BE PROACTIVE – Look around you. If you see rubbish on the floor, pick it up. Encourage your local community to do more. Or at least tell your friends, family and whoever you want to do their piece.

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder or panic attacks, visit your local GP or wellbeing service to find out how you can be supported. For more information, visit Mind.

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