• Anxiety NZ Trust

Eco-anxiety – how to cope with it

Updated: May 11

Following up on our previous article about Eco-anxiety, we've compiled a few tips and techniques to help you coping with increasing anxiety in the face of ecological crisis.


Build Resilience

Developing resilience skills is necessary to cope with all of life’s challenges and stressors. These skills are crucial for the maintenance of psychological wellbeing in the face of the ecological crisis. The Field guide to climate anxiety [1] offers strategies to avoid burnout, develop adaptive coping skills, build resilience and cultivate optimism. The wonderful thing is that individual, community and ecosystem level resilience are all interrelated. When we increase our own individual resilience and ability to cope with the stress caused by ecological change, this can have a positive flow on effect for the resilience of our community, and the wider ecosystem, and vice versa. Through actively engaging with the ecological crisis, we can experience increased resiliency, healing, and posttraumatic growth. In order to engage in a sustainable way, we need a combination of realistic goal setting, self-care, ecologically responsible lifestyle choices, along with promoting political and structural changes in society [2].



Emotion regulation techniques

Emotions play a significant role in determining if we will engage in a healthy way with environmental related change, or if we will become overwhelmed. Learning to address emotions in a healthy manner, expect and recognise the emotions that occur when encountering ecological stressors, and training in appropriate emotion regulation techniques, helps build psychological preparedness [3]. In fact, repressing our emotions may be a cause of maladaptive responses to the ecological crisis. In particular, we need to appreciate and encounter our emotions of grief, fear, powerlessness, anger, guilt, shame and inadequacy [4]. These overwhelming emotional responses, if left unregulated, can lead to emotional freezing, or eco-paralysis, and other maladaptive coping responses Ray [1].

In general emotion-regulation techniques involve learning to recognise and name emotions in oneself, followed by learning to down-regulate or up-regulate emotions to ensure negative emotions don’t become overwhelming, and positive emotions are enhanced. Reappraisal of situations, thoughts and feelings can be used to help get perspective on difficult situations and help keep emotional responses manageable [5].


Develop active hope

Hope is critical when engaging with ecological crisis. Active hope is therapeutic, cautious, yet active, and it has the potential to subvert the eco-anxiety and helplessness that can lead us into despair and inaction. This is in contrast to the perhaps more commonly articulated happy, complacent hope, which is clearly a dangerous and self-deluding type of hope with respect to the ecological and climate crisis [6].

Joanna Macy [7], a Buddhist environmental activist and therapeutic practitioner describes the process of active hope; first acknowledging the reality and scale of the problem, then setting an intention to address it, and finally taking committed action.

This process is reminiscent of an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) [8] approach to dealing with difficult situations and emotions. Learning to accept, rather than struggle with symptoms, instead committing to taking action towards what matters in life. Australian psychologist Jodie Wassner [9] uses an ACT based approach to support people struggling with eco-anxiety. She recommends helping young people who are experiencing feelings of hopelessness about the environment, to reorient toward their values and focus on behaviour changes towards fulfilling these values. Wassner states that the ACT model is a good fit for dealing with climate-change related mental health issues because at its core is the acceptance that life is difficult, but we can still move forward living a meaningful, values-based life.


Join a group of like-minded people

Belonging to a community of like-minded people, who all share the same environmental values, can provide support and encourage more constructive action toward mitigating ecological crisis. Learning to draw on pro-environmental beliefs, values, and goals to generate positive feelings can help people to bear the burden of worry often experienced in relation to ecological crisis. If people who are experiencing eco-anxiety connect with and support others who are also environmentally minded, and perhaps suffering themselves, then there is the potential for healing and growth.


Find help and support online

Climate psychology organisations offer online interventions via their websites such as, the Good Grief Network [10] which foster personal and community resilience and empowerment in the face of climate change. Small groups form within the network to meet and support members to make changes in their lives which help overcome eco-anxiety.

The Climate Psychology Alliance [11] lists a number of therapeutic programmes it offers, both at a community and individual level. The components of their programme include; validating emotional responses to the climate crisis - such as helplessness, grief, anger, despair, anxiety and fear; helping individuals, families and groups develop emotional resilience; contributing to sustainable communities and preparing for change.


References

[1] S. J. Ray. “Embracing Life in the Anthropocene.” In A field guide to climate anxiety: How to keep your cool on a warming planet. 2020, ProQuest Ebook Central.

[2] C. Manning. “Threats to mental health and wellbeing associated with climate change.” In C. Manning & S. Clayton (Eds.), Psychology and Climate Change (pp. 217-244), 2018, https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-12-813130-5.00009-6

[3] A. Y. J. Mah, D.A. Chapman, E.M. Markowitz, & B. Lickel. “Coping with climate change: Three insights for research, intervention, and communication to promote adaptive coping to climate change.” J Anxiety Disord, 75, 102282, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102282

[4] P. Pihkala. “Climate Anxiety.” Helsinki: MIELI Mental Health Finland, 2019.

[5] D. Greenberger & C.A. Padesky. Mind over mood: A cognitive therapy treatment manual for clients. The Guilford Press, 1995.

[6] R. Guyatt, R. “Kierkegaard in the Anthropocene: Hope, Philosophy, and the Climate Crisis.” Religions, 11(6), 2020, https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060279

[7] J. Macy, & M. Brown. Coming Back to Life. New Society Publishers, 2014.

[8] S.C. Hayes. “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Relational Frame Theory, and the third wave of behavioral and cognitive therapies.” Behavior Therapy, 35, 639-665, 2004, https://doi.org/doi: 10.1016/S0005-7894(04)80013-3.

[9] Climate Anxiety and Young People - ANZ ACT (anzacbs.com)

[10] https://www.goodgriefnetwork.org

[11] https://www.climatepsychologyalliance.org




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