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Eco-anxiety: A universal problem

October 15th 2018

Tagged: Climate, Culture, Environment, Psychology

Though many may not be aware of the term, “eco-anxiety”- worry relating to the world’s environmental issues – is considered by some as a growing problem each one of us could be dealing with. Writer and ecotherapist Linda Buzzell says everyone may be experiencing eco-anxiety, to varying degrees.

“People have a lot of feelings about [climate change]. But it’s not talked about enough yet,” Buzzell said.

“It’s kind of a semi-conscious thing where you don’t want to think about it, but the anxiety is there.”

Buzzell, a California resident, is co-editor of the 2009 book Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, a blogger of ecopsychology for The Huffington Post and a member of the editorial board for Ecopsychology journal. Although eco-anxiety isn’t a new concept, Buzzell says there’s been increasing concern for the particular worry in recent years, given the changing state of our climate and the amount of information many of us now have regular access to.

“We hear so much about it, it’s pretty hard not to be at least a little bit anxious about [climate change], unless you’re in total denial that there’s a problem,” Buzzell said.

“Which is why I think eco-anxiety is as common as it is. Often, when people hear the word, even if they don’t know exactly what it means, there’s an immediate sensation of ‘Oh, I get it’.”

Some of Buzzell’s thoughts are echoed in a recent U.S. study published in the international journal Global Environment Change. It mentions the lack of research on the psychological impacts of climate change, despite the widespread attention it receives. The study, published earlier this year, highlights how our ability to address climate change heavily depends on our capacity to psychologically cope with it.

“The adjustments and adaptations people will make, both individually and collectively, will depend on how they are making sense out of…the phenomenon of climate change.”

Buzzell says people can become overwhelmed and disheartened when hearing about environmental issues. One way they may react is to ignore or deny their existence.

“People who [deny climate change], that’s a form of self-protection,” Buzzell said. “It’s like if somebody told you that you had a bad disease. It wouldn’t be unheard of for you to say ‘No, that can’t be true.’ When we hear about terrible things, we want to push them away.”

In other cases, many acknowledge the issues exist but feel helpless and defeated when realizing their severity. Regardless of people’s varying responses to environmental problems, Buzzell says it’s imperative to acknowledge eco-anxiety when it exists and know it’s treatable.

“I want to reassure anyone who feels they have eco-anxiety that it doesn’t make you wrong or crazy. You are feeling the grief for the pain of the world,” Buzzell said.

“I think one of the most important things is finding someone to talk with. This is not something [one person] can fix. It’s something we really need to come together and talk about.”

Buzzell says eco-anxiety is not considered a mood disorder but rather a reaction to our environment’s issues. However, it’s important to recognize it may indicate a larger mental health problem. In this case, it’s important to reach out for professional help.

“So much in psychology we give these things labels. It’s important to not see [eco-anxiety] as a pathology,” Buzzell said.

“But sometimes, it does help to talk with a professional, just in case the anxiety the person is experiencing about the environment is tied into previous anxiety in their lives.”

Regardless of how one develops eco-anxiety, whether in response to being involved in a climate change-related disaster, continually hearing about environmental degradation in the news or by directly seeing its effects, Buzzell hopes those suffering know their feelings are valid.

“In a sense, human beings have become like tigers in the zoo. We’re sort of disconnected from the rest of nature, and it’s making us a little nuts,” Buzzell said.

“Eco-anxiety is a sign that a person is waking up to some realities that need to be addressed.”

According to Buzzell, integrating nature into our everyday lives and taking steps to address climate change are vital components of treating eco-anxiety. However, she also says this isn’t something a person can combat on their own.

“You really need to be with other people who are trying to [help the environment] and keep each other going,” Buzzell said.

“That empowerment helps take away the anxiety and focuses more on positive action.”

Another important component? Balancing the bad with some good.

“We should be grateful for the things that are good and healthy and celebrate that,” Buzzell said.

“It’s about living our lives to the fullest while creating the world we all want to live in.”

Human reaction to climate change is considered by many as an under-researched issue at this time. However, this doesn’t make the notion of eco-anxiety any less real or impactful. If you feel you’re struggling with eco-anxiety, talking to someone you trust is one of the first major steps you can take to ease the burden. Additionally, taking advantage of relevant resources can be an empowering way to treat eco-anxiety. Buzzell recommends finding an environmental advocacy group, whether it be in person or online, can be a great way to find understanding people to talk to and take concrete action in order to ease the worry of eco-anxiety.

While talking about eco-anxiety when it exists and working collectively on the issue are two important components of treating the environment-related worry, taking steps on an individual level can also be beneficial. Buzzell recommends finding an outlet, ideally one connected to nature, can be a great way to nurture self-empowerment. She mentioned in our interview that, for her, permaculture- an eco-friendly form of gardening – is her way of getting back to nature in a way that helps both her and the environment.

For me, jogging through the nature trail near my house, taking my dog swimming at the local beach or something as simple as air-drying my laundry outside are activities I enjoy doing to sustain my relationship with nature. Doing such things, in addition to being honest about my environment-related worries and getting involved on a local level, helps keep me motivated when it comes to overcoming my anxiety and making a difference for the environment.

– By WorkingAbroad Blog Writer Elle Cote

Photo from WikiMedia Commons, by Dominicus Johannes Bergsma

For more information on Buzzell, ecotherapy and related resources, visit her website at http://www.ecotherapyheals.com/

For more information about environmental volunteering opportunities, please click here.


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