The UK is currently hosting a summit called COP26, which is the United Nations 26th 'Conference of the Parties’. Attended by countries that signed the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in 1994, the event is a global meeting concentrating on climate change and how these countries are planning to tackle it.
COP26 is taking place in Glasgow between 31st October and 12th November, and any decisions made could lead to big changes in our everyday lives. The last COP summit was held in Madrid in 2019, with Greta Thunberg giving an inspirational speech but ended with lots of issues unresolved.
The UK government declared 2020 a year of climate action, but the pandemic pretty much overshadowed this. However, they have pledged to reduce the UK's carbon emissions to 'net zero' by 2050. This means cutting emissions drastically and absorbing as much carbon as it produces. They aim to do this by avoiding emissions completely in areas like transport, farming and other industries, or offset by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. An enormous task, and it's really unclear to most of us how they will do this.
2050 is still a long time away, and if the COP26 nations still can't agree… This leaves many of us feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable and helpless. We may be experiencing eco-anxiety.
What Is Eco Anxiety?
Eco anxiety, or environmental anxiety, is a blanket term used to describe the sadness, anger, fear and sense of loss, or even panic people feel when they learn about or witness the impacts of climate change on our planet.
The term was coined and defined by the American Psychological Association in 2017 and now has become part of our regular vocabulary. It's not a mental health issue in its own right but refers to when a person has persistent worries about the future of Earth and the life that it supports.
Other terms like climate change distress, ecological grief, or eco trauma reflect and acknowledge that this concern can feel more than just a generalised worry but can lead to more severe symptoms of anxiety and more.
Medical News Today discussed a survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries who reported feeling deeply anxious. Over 75% of respondents said "the future is frightening" and more than 50% said they felt "sad, anxious, powerless, helpless and guilty". More than half felt betrayed by their governments, believing that their actions were not enough and were not "protecting the planet or future generations."
With the nations at COP26 debating climate change, feelings of climate anxiety might be amplified at this time; it seems helpful to look at how to deal with eco-anxiety, what we can do for ourselves and our planet.
How To Deal With Eco Anxiety
Eco anxiety affects different people in different ways. Some may feel helpless or fearful while others feel frustrated and angry, but there are lots of positive ways to deal with these feelings, and we'd like to share a few here:
Find like-minded people - It's important to surround yourself with people who understand what you're feeling. Talking together, sharing your fears and worries can be truly supportive. Having a community that gets you, giving you support and validation, is great for your mental wellbeing.
Talk to family and friends - It's important everyone around you knows how you feel. You never know, you might be able to introduce someone to using more eco-friendly products or taking fewer flights. But even if that's not possible, you won't have the stress of hiding your true feelings.
Drop the regret - You may be judging yourself harshly for the things you have done to contribute to climate change, currently or in the past, and these feelings of guilt and shame can contribute to your feelings of powerlessness and overwhelm. Not helpful. You can't change the past, and beating yourself up is counterproductive. Stick to being more present with what you can do now.
Make small changes - When you're feeling anxious, it's easy to believe that you as an individual can't make any difference. However, many individuals making small changes is what will make huge steps in changing the future. Do something small, something you can do like trying a plant-based diet, reducing plastic use, cycling to work, reducing electricity use in your home or shopping secondhand. All these simple actions contribute to a greater wave of change.
Reduce Or Stay Away from Screens - "Doomscrolling ", constantly accessing negative or upsetting news on TV or social media is going to affect your well being negatively and can exacerbate pre-existing or developing mental health symptoms. Set yourself a time limit, or use a blocking app, when you are using your phone, and create boundaries for yourself around the TV news.
Prioritise Self Care - When you are feeling overwhelmed by climate anxiety, take time out. Spend time doing things you love that make you feel positive and safe. Learning to see when to remove yourself from situations that make you worry is just as important as knowing when to take action.
Find Green Spaces - Where you spend your spare time can have a huge influence on your overall sense of mental health. Spending more time out in nature has been shown to reduce stress levels and bring about a sense of peace and connection.
Seek Professional Support - If it has got to the point where your anxiety is so bad that you can't take small steps, talk to friends, get outside or stop yourself from scrolling, it's time to ask for professional support. Go to your GP or contact MIND. Your mental health is important.
Whatever COP26 brings, if we all take small steps - like buying a bamboo toothbrush or carrying a reusable coffee cup - we can all make a difference.
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