If we look at the history of humanity, humans seemed to have been getting along well with nature at the beginning. Humans respected nature; some even worshipped its powers in different forms. But as we have “progressed” as intellectual beings, we have turned a blind eye towards the horrific side effects our actions have caused. Our greed makes us believe that we’re not a part of nature, rather we’re beings who are above it. This has lead to severe consequences like climate change which has actually turned into climate crises. In the last decade, fortunately there has been a rise in environmental activism and we’re slowly becoming aware of the consequences of our actions. Along with this awareness - follows the anxiety which emerges from the anticipation of the eventual catastrophe and ecological disaster.
In 2017, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) described eco-anxiety as "a chronic fear of environmental doom." This phenomenon is not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), thus cannot be called a mental health condition. But, the people who suffer from anxiety is truly distressing. Climate change has affected us in more ways than we can fathom – it does damage to the community groups, contributes in the loss of food, and it also plays a role in reduced medical supply security.
The APA has listed how climate change affects us:
• trauma and shock
• post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• substance abuse
• reduced feelings of autonomy and control
• feelings of helplessness, fatalism, and fear
The media coverage on environmental disasters can also cause us to experience feelings of helplessness such as in the case of recent bushfires that wreaked havoc in Australia. Although the tragedy has been in Australia, the entire planet has suffered its consequences. People from across the world have contributed in aiding the government to put out the fires. Extreme weather events have fuelled civil wars and mass protests. It has impacted individuals’ homes and destroyed habitats. Along with the anxiety, our lifestyles are having an impact on the environment which are further causing feelings of guilt and inadequacy. People feel they have failed the upcoming generations by destroying nature and leaving it worse than they received it.
When it comes to eco-anxiety it is observed that certain populations are more likely to experience distress than others and this is because of their lifestyles and livelihood. Such as:
• displaced people and forced migrants
• people with pre-existing mental or physical health conditions
• people of lower socioeconomic status
• children/young adults and older adults
These populations are hypothesized to be more vulnerable to negative feelings when it comes to experiencing eco-anxiety. People whose livelihood depends on fishing, agriculture and tourism are also affected severely.
How do we manage eco-anxiety?
When all of these dreadful events are taking place around us, what can we do to improve our situation? There are a few ways in which we can cope with the eco-anxiety. Some of them are as follows:
• Being Proactive
- Maintaining a sustainable lifestyle by altering your day-to-day choices
- Forming social groups which help the local natural habitats to recover
- Volunteering at environmental causes
By being proactive, we get a sense of fulfillment that we at least contributed to the cause on a personal level.
• Getting educated
Receiving and sharing reliable information among your social circle to spread awareness about climate change. If more people are aware, we can reach our goal faster and more efficiently.
• Paying attention to your choices
- Using sustainable means such as cycling to work or opting for public transport instead of private vehicles.
- It has been studied that reducing meat intake helps in building a sustainable lifestyle.
The other side of eco-anxiety
Although eco-anxiety is distressful, it has also helped the community in many ways. It seems like this was a slight push which society needed to make i.e. small but effective changes in our lifestyles that will help us in repairing the damage we have done.
More and more people are becoming aware that climate change does exist and it is a threat to the very existence of humanity. Several movements have been launched in the past couple of years. People in STEM fields are focusing on developing technology that will work with the nature instead of against it. Sustainability has become a “trend” that we all hope will last for a long time. People are using recyclable material, disposing trash more effectively. Sadly, it is said that being environmentally aware is difficult for people who come from lower socio-economic class as their primary focus is sustenance. So, in order to bring everyone into this movement of saving the planet, we’ll have to focus on uplifting the society to a better standard of living and this will surely help us in dealing with or we may say, getting rid of eco-anxiety!