Ecological grief: how I cope when it all seems too much.
The terms 'eco anxiety' and 'eco guilt' have occupied many conversations in 2019. They describe feelings that many of us will be familiar with. In fact, more than a third of British people are currently suffering.
In short, ecological grief and anxiety describe the impacts on our mental health from “experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.”
This isn’t just a minor annoyance, either: ecological grief is putting the health of our minds, bodies and communities at risk.
At the Earthwatch Europe office, we have been exploring how we, as individuals, deal with our feelings of eco-anxiety and eco-grief, and how we can use our worries as motivation to actually help solve the issues that are bothering us.
Relieving your eco-anxiety
If you are suffering from eco-grief or eco-anxiety, a great way to ease it is by taking action to help the environmental movement.
One person taking their reusable coffee cup into a shop might not turn the tide on single-use coffee cups, but bringing your own cup into a coffee shop has gone from a strange behaviour to something completely normal. Now organisations are scrambling to make changes to keep up with new consumer behaviours.
This is the snowball effect - one person doing something grows into a small proportion of people, and the effects start to snowball with more and more people joining in. So be a responsible consumer and join in where you can, when you can, and however you can.
Start by thinking about how the items you buy contribute to the problem, and what you might be able to change. Can you buy local, organic, less, or make your own lunch instead of buying pre-packaged, or cycle to work?
Now look to your home. Solar panels and other changes might not be feasible, particularly if you rent, but are there changes you could make? For example, can you change your energy tariff to 100% renewable energy? Have better insulation? Put a jumper on and turn the heating down? This article has more top tips to make your home eco-friendly.
And remember, not to neglect your outside space, either. Websites like our own Naturehood website have tips on how to make your garden wildlife friendly and increase biodiversity.
Signing petitions and writing to your local MP are also completely valid actions, so go ahead and add your voice to the crowd of people crying for change.
Do whatever you can, that works in your life. And be on the lookout for what more you can do.
It can also help you to talk to your friends/family/coworkers about how you’re feeling. Tell them about some action you took and why you found it helpful, or just have a conversation about environmental issues and solutions. Spending time with other people who are environmentally-conscious will help you to see that you are not alone, that you have support, and that collectively we can all make a difference in the world.
Outside your immediate circle, consider joining a volunteering group or project, and take direct action to tackle environmental issues. See what you can do in your workplace or place of study - is there a sustainability or environmental group already? If not, could you set one up? Or maybe there is something else you could initiate which would have an impact?
Sometimes, ecological anxiety can be completely overwhelming.
At these times, try to focus on positive stories and use humour where possible.
Also remember to be kind to yourself – you do not have to be superhuman to change the world. Every single one of us, as individuals, have the power to create change. Be the change you want to see in the world, but don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect, to quote a very wise little fish ‘just keep swimming’.
Finally, look to the future - it is worth being on the fighting side, rather than giving up hope completely. When we come through the other side, you’ll want to know you were taking action for what is right, not that you sat at the side-lines.
You can find out more about ecological grief and anxiety and how it has been affecting individuals in this episode of costing the earth on BBC radio 4 (and other BBC material) and this article from the American psychological association.
Kes Scott-Somme, Research Assistant, Earthwatch Europe