COP26 is under way which means climate change will be dominating headlines this week. And it’s likely to have an impact on your emotions.
The climate crisis is a complex matter – and it comes with a multitude of feelings, which can range from apathy to anger.
Seeing global leaders attempt to get a handle on it over the 12-day conference may also leave you feeling dejected, despairing or hopeless.
Your eco-anxiety might be manifesting in several ways or one prominent way. So how do we keep a handle on our multitudinous feelings during this time, or any time in the year that leaves us with eco-anxiety?
Dr Nihara Krause, a consultant clinical psychologist, and founder of several youth mental health charities, says there are various ways to deal with conflicting feelings around climate change.
But, just as we’ve seen in the pandemic, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for having these mixed feelings, because it’s not simple dealing with life-altering events.
“When our sense of safety is threatened, our natural reaction is to feel anxious and helpless (as we saw very clearly with the pandemic) since safety is a basic human need,” explains Dr Krause.
“Whilst eco-anxiety has been growing, the current population is more anxious post-pandemic, and so any alarming news to an already alarmed and worried population is also going to have bigger impact.
“Whilst eco-worry is a realistic worry to have, it’s important to try and learn to manage it as best we can.”
Dr Krause says some possible strategies to deal with eco-anxiety include:
1. Taking steps to make what is in your control and you can make secure, safe.
2. Getting active. Think about what steps you would like to take to make a change to address the concerns you have. This will help you feel less helpless. It could mean writing to your MP, starting a petition, or switching to a greener lifestyle.
3. Often anxiety tends to be cumulative, so if there are other things that are making you anxious, try and address those too.
4. Seeking support in order to gain perspective or a different view.
5. Having a break from news about the climate. Sometimes when we are anxious, we over seek information.
6. Learning to manage over thinking by setting specific times to think, having distractions.
7. Collaborating with others so that you feel less alone.
8. Focusing on the positive steps that are being taken – anxiety can give you a very negative, lop-sided perspective.
If you’re in the ‘hopeless’ or ‘apathetic’ camp, you may experience eco-paralysis and feel like you can’t do anything to make a difference, so what’s the point? In this instance, Dr Krause says there are things you can do to prioritise your own wellbeing – and positive action for the planet will follow.
“If you are feeling very helpless and it’s difficult to put steps you know you need to take into action, see this as the third reaction to fear or anxiety, ie. it is the freeze bit of the fight or flight response,” Dr Krause explains.
“Do some things you find soothing and calming, talk to friends who make you feel safe and then support yourself to try any one or more of the suggestions above.”