I Mother Earth and her children I The Growing Concern: Eco-anxiety in the Era of Climate Change

-I Mother Earth and her children I The Growing Concern: Eco-anxiety in the Era of Climate Change

I Mother Earth and her children I The Growing Concern: Eco-anxiety in the Era of Climate Change

Publish time: 2023-12-07
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Climate change is happening, and mental health is as important as always. Although mental health awareness has been present since the 1700s, there has definitely been an increase over the past three years, especially due to the pandemic. As climate change is becoming more serious, it might actually be a factor contributing to your anxiety. Imagine all the changes our society has been forced to make due to climate change and it still isn’t enough. Will we ever find a solution to this issue? The truth is we don’t know the answer until it is solved, and that is what is causing all of our anxiety. How can something that isn’t directly affecting me make me anxious you might ask? Firstly, directly or indirectly we are all being affected by climate change. Secondly, news about climate change is all around us. It’s inevitable to hear about our planet’s doom in some form of media. So what is this new type of anxiety called?

There is a new term coming to light known as Eco-anxiety Which, as stated by the American Psychology Association (APA), is “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one's future and that of the next generations '. Although it is a form of anxiety mostly associated with people who are aware of our current climate issues, the growing impact of climate change on our industries, such as agriculture and natural disasters, will eventually begin to affect more and more people. The Yale Program of Climate Change Communications stated that 70 percent of Americans are "worried" about climate change, with 59 percent feeling "helpless."

There is no doubt that climate change has become one of the biggest stressors to humanity. Eco-anxiety has been described similarly to another unregistered condition known as solastalgia, which occurs in native populations following destructive changes in their territory. However, the major difference between the two is that solastalgia affects people who have already suffered from a natural disaster while eco-anxiety includes the worry that it might happen in the future.

Environmental disasters do not affect people equally, different parts of the world experience climate change and disasters to different degrees. This means that people would have different levels of stressors. There are very obvious reasons why someone would suffer from eco-anxiety, such as the loss of crops due to climate disasters or even unemployment. Apart from crop loss and higher unemployment rates; other changes in communities, such as aboriginal communities, can lead to eco-anxiety due to these communities' great dependence on the environment.

 


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Figure 1: Linking the physical and psychological impacts of climate change.

 

This does not count out people outside these communities. Eco-anxiety can also be experienced by people who work in the environmental sector, who are also prone to higher levels of eco-anxiety due to the awareness of our planet.

Indigenous Mental Health and Climate Change

The more we are connected to the land or dependent on the land, the greater the impact to our mental health that would be experienced by an individual due to climate change. This is a common response to any creature whose home is threatened, with no exceptions to humans. But some of us continue to have a home to cling to or are only feeling the tip of the iceberg when it comes to climate change. Indigenous people are known for being much more dependent on the land. It is more than just access to resources. Due to their deep connection to the land/earth, there may be other factors playing into their anxiety. These include:


|Understanding or perception of climate change:
Indigenous populations are aware of the changes happening in our climate; however, they often describe the changes as strange, unpredictable, and wild. Often when someone is faced with something incomprehensible, this brings about confusion and worry.


|Homeland attachment:
Indigenous people are quite attached to their land. Climate change has caused many communities to be forced to migrate or develop a sense of loss of place. Due to the cultural connection between indigenous people and the land; the land was considered a way to alleviate stress and provide mental quality.


|Disruption of culture:
This is linked to the loss of land. Indigenous communities use the land for important cultural practices such as hunting, fishing, socializing, and maintaining relationships. With the limited access to land due to climate change, not being able to perform traditional practices and heal on the land has also led to adding anxiety.


|Food insecurity:
One of the best pathways to show the link between mental health and climate change. Climate change has affected the accessibility and the quality of crops. The unavailability of crops leads to stress in worries about malnutrition.


|Existing socio-economic disadvantages:
Indigenous communities are concentrated in a specific skill set. Lack of land has decreased employment.

People who have a sense of losing their homes because of climate change or societies, such as indigenous communities, will have a more severe level of eco-anxiety and other effects to their mental health. What about the people who only feel the tip of the iceberg? Although some communities are not directly dependent on the earth the anxiety is still there. Which is why we should not exclude them from the equation. Let's dive in a bit more into a main contributor to eco-anxiety.

Climate Change and Eco-Anxiety in Modern Day: Where does it come from?

Our planet is dying, and the media does a great job of making this known. Imagine putting on your TV and being told daily that we are one step closer to doomsday. We aren’t only aware of what is happening, but we are constantly being bombarded with information that puts us in distress. Not to mention that we receive this information while trying to deal with our personal lives. Eco-anxiety is something that affects all but can be more severe on kids and adolescents who lack a proper understanding of what is happening. Significant worry can be caused by the information being fed to us in the media. According to Ojala M., this worry can cause youths to cope by trying to search for more information with the hope of solving the problem. When used to cope with an uncontrollable situation such as climate change, it can cause lower mental well-being rather than provide help.

Climate change has been portrayed differently in the media throughout the years. This can make it a bit more complicated how exactly media affects the way people think and the level of impact it has on people. In one scenario, there is a form of media that oversimplifies what climate change is, which, as a result, does not show its relevance to people’s daily lives. As mentioned above, this can lead to confusion as to why the community is depressed. There is no understanding of how stressors such as loss of culture and land affect well-being.

Scenario two involves using the media to show the urgency of climate change. Although it is important to educate the world about what is happening to our planet, without also providing coverage of focused solutions on the issue, it can contribute to anxiety and loss of sense of hope. Media is important for its wide and swift reach. However, there are also things to consider in media, such as bias and sensationalism. With a delicate topic such as climate change, causing alarm with such an issue can lead to panic within society.

Having media so easily accessible has been a blessing to everyone to keep informed about what is happening around the world. However, with the chances of receiving misinformation or over-exaggeration, the likelihood of developing anxiety from the media is increasing with time.

 

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What to Do about Eco-anxiety?

We are definitely in a tough situation at the moment. There is undeniable proof for us to panic, but as a wise person said, "It isn't over till it's over." The real question is what do we do to cope with the anxiety that comes with climate change?

This is something that requires improvement in everyone’s area, not just the media. However, due to the large impact that media and social media have on our current generation, it is important to also report the positive changes as well as solutions that have positively set our transition to sustainability. Without this, the only achievement received through reporting will be an overwhelming sensation and amplified fear. The good news is that, just like regular anxiety, eco-anxiety can also be managed. It’s not the end of the world yet, and that is something we should all be mindful of. So what can we do about it?

Ways to Work with Your Eco-anxiety?

We have established that eco-anxiety has to do with the fear related to climate change and its impact. It’s also important to understand that it is normal to feel overwhelmed and distressed by what is happening to our planet. The reality of it is that we are all unsure of what the future holds for our planet but are trying our best to do our part. Here are some ways to cope with such feelings:

|Stay informed and educate yourself:
Climate change is here and it is happening. There is no denying that it is part of our lives, so do your best to be mindful of how it affects you; especially when it comes to your mental health. New information that speaks about our dying planet can be scary but we cannot trust everything we see for the first time in the media. Take time out to properly research a topic and see what other media outlets are saying. Apart from this, be sure to also not only educate yourself on what is going wrong. Our climate is changing but so are our solutions to the problems presented. Focus on finding solutions and actions you can take to make a positive change.

|Take action:
Always remember that small steps yield big results. Sometimes, when we see natural disasters, mass deforestation, and rising sea levels, it is easy to feel helpless. When we take small steps such as reducing waste, using public transport or even walking instead of driving, these can be small actions that can make you feel empowered.

|Connecting with others:
Amid a climate crisis, isolation is not the way to go. You should also be a bit softer on yourself, as the cases of eco-anxiety are increasing with time. You need to take action both individually and within communities. Working within communities can provide you with support, advice, and friendship that can help alleviate feelings of isolation and despair.

|Practice mindfulness:
This is the icing on the top of the cake. Why? Mindfulness includes meditation, yoga or simply spending time in nature. When presented with never-ending information, using some of these practices can help with processing the information in a controlled manner as well as properly understanding what you're feeling based on the information. Practices such as spending time in nature give you time to develop an appreciation for what we currently have and not just what are losing.

|Seek professional help:
If your eco-anxiety or social media anxiety becomes unmanageable, it is also okay to consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor.

 

Be gentle with yourself. As real as climate change is, so is eco-anxiety. The pressures currently affecting our mental health due to climate change are countless but the solutions are also coming. We are the solution, so it is only right that we take care of ourselves just as we are trying to do for our planet.

 


References:
1. Anderson. (2023, March 10). How to Deal with Eco-Anxiety. How to Deal With Eco-Anxiety. Retrieved May 7, 2023
https://greenly.earth/en-gb/blog/ecology-news/how-to-deal-with-eco-anxiety

2. Clayton, S., C.M. Manning, and C. Hodge, Beyond Storms, and Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change. 2014, American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica; p.13.
https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/anxiety/levels-of-anxiety/

3. Ojala, M. (2019). Eco-anxiety. Royal Society Art J. 4.
Available online at: https:// medium.com/rsa-journal/eco-anxiety-323056def77f

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Anwar Wade

Anwar Wade, a Belizean national, has been residing in Taiwan for six years since 2017. He recently completed his undergraduate program in Bioenvironmental Systems Engineering at National Taiwan University. Passionate about climate justice, Anwar has immersed himself in diverse domains during his time in Taiwan. He has garnered invaluable experience in environmental consulting, non-profit organization management, environmental journalism, and quality engineering. Additionally, he had the privilege of applying his studies and exploring sustainability practices during a research trip to India. This experience fueled his desire to approach environmental sciences from a more social science perspective.

Looking ahead, Anwar envisions furthering his studies in sustainable enterprise or environmental and societal governance. He aspires to continuously refine his writing skills to inspire and inform people about climate change. Beyond his professional and academic aspirations, Anwar finds solace in the outdoors, engaging in activities such as hiking, river tracing, and bouldering. In his free time, he actively contributes to communities and dog shelters in Taiwan, seeking to make a positive impact beyond his professional endeavors.

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