Eco-anxiety: what is it and how can you combat it?

Posted on: 12 May, 2022

In this guest article for Mental Health Awareness Week, our sustainability education and engagement officer, Jessica Gordon-Calvert, explains what eco-anxiety is and shares her thoughts on how to combat it.

Jessica Gordon-Calvert

Eco-anxiety or climate anxiety is a term that has become quite prominent over recent years, defined as feeling anxious or worried about climate change, and the impact and the work needed to address it. Although not currently a diagnosable condition, it has been well researched and appears in the media regularly. The need to address the climate crisis has never been more urgent, and this urgency, coupled with the vastness of the task ahead, can have an effect on our mental health.

Human behaviour has always been of great interest to me and, with my education background in psychology, I believe that mental health should be given equal attention to that of our physical health. In the realms of climate change and the environment around us, the quality and stability of which has been identified as the biggest health threat across the globe – both physical and mental. It’s important that we keep focused on tackling climate change, but also that we look after ourselves and our minds when things get tough.

For Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to share four techniques I use when I’m feeling particularly anxious about the climate emergency (please note that these have not been prescribed and are a personal choice. If you’re worried about anything regarding your mental health, please contact our disability and welfare team or go through the channels provided by Samaritans, London Nightline or the link):

  1. Talk to someone. When I’m feeling low, I reach out to my friends and family. Sometimes I tell them how I’m feeling, sometimes I don’t. Whether you talk about the climate emergency or action, or something else entirely its up to you but reaching out to your community, no matter how big or small can be a powerful antidote.
  2. Go seek out nature. I find that going out for a wander or sitting in nature helps me reset. It might sound a bit kooky but go and seek out some green space, take the time to sit in it, breathe it in and really observe your surroundings. One of my favourite campaigns is 30 Days Wild by the Wildlife Trusts which takes place every June. It’s a great way to challenge yourself to find ways to connect with nature.
  3. Schedule a switch off. In a world filled with technology and constant connectivity, it’s easy to become submerged by the news, frustrated by injustices (both social and environmental) and trapped in a cycle of despair. I try (with mixed success) to switch off from social media and the news at least 30 minutes before I go to sleep and have taken to reading fiction or listening to an audiobook instead. Setting yourself time to switch off, whatever time of day, is important.
  4. Carry out a small climate action. When the enormous task of tackling climate change lies before us, it can be easy to become overwhelmed and find ourselves blocked from taking any action at all. I find making one or a series of small actions helps alleviate some of the anxiety. Small actions for me can be:
    • cooking a meat-free or plant-based meal;
    • putting something in the recycling bin;
    • going on a walk and doing a mini litter pick;
    • listening to a climate action or social justice podcast (Friends of the Earth have got some fab podcasts);
    • reading an environment-themed book (I’ve just started ‘The Intersectional Environmentalist’ by Leah Thomas).

In my first article at UCEM, I talked about being an environmental and social justice champion and how kindness and compassion are an essential component to being one. Eco-anxiety is another example as to why they are so important to the environmental and social justice agenda. There seems to be an obsession and demand for perfectionism from people who are environmentally conscious within some areas of climate activism, the media and those against taking climate or sustainable action. Perfection does not exist and we will find ourselves permanently exhausted, anxious and guilty for failing to meet this impossible demand.

By working together, supporting each other, empowering one another we can each contribute to climate action in unique and imperfect ways.