Written by Ishaan Singh, a grade 12 student
Have you ever felt the overwhelming sense of dread when thinking about the state of our planet’s environment? If your answer is yes, then you are not alone. You are among the thousands of people, including myself, who suffer from what psychologists call eco-anxiety.
As the name suggests, eco-anxiety refers to the persistent fear of ecological collapse as the world struggles to effectively tackle rising temperatures. The American Psychological Association (APA), which is the central organization of psychologists around the globe, defines eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. It also says that a rapidly warming planet can greatly impact our mental well-being and ability to cope with stress.
The number of reported cases of eco-anxiety have shown a gradual and dramatic increase in the last few years, as more and more young people have begun worrying about what their future and that of their future generations would look like.
With sea levels rising, forest fires and floods becoming more and more common, ice caps melting, and glaciers disintegrating, it can be hard to maintain an optimistic outlook. Besides the various disasters wreaking havoc in different parts of the world, what also leads us to be pessimistic about the future is our helplessness in combating these calamities. Some common signs of eco-anxiety include depressive thoughts, anxiety, reduced appetite and socialization, and a chronic sense of fatigue.
As someone who suffered from eco-anxiety, I can assure you that there is a way out. The summer of 2019 was a turning point for me as it was during that period that I witnessed three events, namely the terrifying water crisis in Chennai, record-breaking heat waves in European regions, and rapid melting of ice caps in Greenland, that forever changed how I looked at the world. What bothered me even more than witnessing these crises was the apparent carelessness and indifference of people towards these calamitous occurrences.
It was clear that people had become so helpless that they were beginning to accept this doomed reality and went on with their lives as if the world around them wasn’t hurtling towards a catastrophe. It was then that I realized that I could no longer sit on my hands and that it was time to transform my anxiety into a catalyst for change.
To tackle eco-anxiety, one must begin by acknowledging one’s feelings before taking any concrete action.
Given below are some tried-and-tested and effective ways to manage eco-anxiety:
• Seek accurate information
Oftentimes, news outlets publish inaccurate information to serve personal interests and agendas. While reading up on environmental issues, always refer to credible sources and watch out for potentially misleading information you may come across.
• Take breaks
The fight for climate action is a long and tiring one, so it is extremely important to take breaks and rejuvenate. Scrolling through social media, which is filled with terrifying headlines and frightening images, can be triggering and mentally exhausting for most of us. Take breaks, set boundaries, and log out when you feel like you need it.
• Engage with your community
Joining a group of like-minded individuals may motivate you to continue your fight against the destruction of the environment and significantly reduce your stress levels. You may join organizations like Extinction Rebellion (XR), attend your local Fridays For Future (FFF) meetings, participate in clean drives, or even lead your own movement to mobilize people and engage with them.
• Reach out
Although these steps worked for me, they might not be effective for everyone. If your anxiety ever peaks or if you think you are unable to tackle it effectively, reach out to a mental health professional. Climate change can get extremely stressful and it’s okay to seek professional help whenever required.