Is eco anxiety a genuine anxiety or is it being used as a buzzword?
Eco anxiety is definitely a genuine thing. I think anybody who is even remotely aware of what is going on in the world is going to have concerns about the inevitable problems that we are already seeing with our climate and the reluctance of our government to do anything about it.
What’s really important is to differentiate between having a general concern and worry about the environment and being plagued by anxiety as they are two different things. When you suffer from anxiety you catastrophize things; you don’t just live with what’s happening here and now, you imagine and entertain all sorts of terrible scenarios and then live in that reality, which is often quite a terrifying place to be.
What I have discovered – and we’ve seen eco anxiety happening more and more in clinic – is that these people can get really anxious about lots of different things so it’s not that they are just anxious about the climate, they are anxious about anything and because this is presented as a real thing to have concerns about, it’s almost like giving them permission and allowing that anxiety a free reign to catastrophize and create a lot of distress for them.
Is eco anxiety something you have experienced yourself?
Yes. I think particularly if you are a parent, you are very conscious of the world that your children are growing up in and the implications for them if nothing changes. I am really mindful of that and of challenging myself about my own carbon footprint. These might not always be so convenient and easy for me but we can all play our part; whether that’s not buying a plastic bottle of water or getting into a car to go on a journey when I don’t necessarily need to. Those things are really on my mind and I am concerned, but they are not creating distress and anxiety for me.
What advice do you have for someone with eco anxiety?
If that’s you and you are finding it distressing thinking about the climate and the implications for all of us if nothing changes, the thing to do is to try and give yourself some sense of control by making small amendments to your own lifestyle; making small changes that help you feel that in your own way you’re contributing something. For anyone who isn’t already actively making changes, then get active as that normally makes us feel better.
If you are somebody who does find that their anxiety is much more general and tends to focus on one or two different things, then that’s a different body of work for you. That’s focussing on dealing with anxiety as more of an illness rather than a genuine or legitimate concern about something that is happening.
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