Ecological anxiety, often known as eco-anxiety, is a psychological or emotional reaction to environmental degradation and the ongoing ecological catastrophe. Concerns about the environment, climate change, and the detrimental effects of human activities on the Earth's ecosystems cause this form of anxiety.
What we knew of as a far-fetched environmental calamity and funnily never imagined it to hit at least another 100 years, is becoming more real with each passing day. Growing up in our EVS or science classes when we read about climate change and global warming, it always appeared as something our generation would never have to face. Yet heatwaves, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods are becoming more violent and widespread these days. Biodiversity loss, deforestation, and pollution are persistent challenges. And our anxiety about the earth not looking the same as we knew of has subsequently increased by excessive worrying about how we can reduce the drastic climate change. This manifests in our daily functioning as having difficulty concentrating, sleeping, feeling more fatigued, and guilt revolving around feeling responsible for the impact.
Recently earth recorded the hottest day ever for three consecutive days. Unexpectedly, in a world this hot, no human has ever existed and we have not experienced this level of global heat in at least 125,000 years. More significantly, the climate control mechanisms that help regulate surface temperatures are disappearing.
The Himalayas are also impacted by shrinking and if the global temperatures increase by four degrees Celsius, up to 80% of glaciers may be gone by the year 2100. All this news seems surreal, doesn’t it?
Consequently, many of us are frequently overwhelmed, upset, and concerned about the planet's future and also concerned about biodiversity loss, deforestation, pollution, extinction of species, rising sea levels, extreme weather occurrences, and other environmental challenges. This worry might arise from a strong connection to nature and genuine concern for the Earth's and our future generations' well-being. We are also often worried about the deteriorating quality of life, water, sanitization, and health we are encountering currently, and the result of that on our lifestyle, getting infected by diseases and the struggles of feeling helpless, despair, and a belief that actions won’t make any difference anymore.
There is also a class distinction in the parody of the effects of climate change. Individuals with more resources do not feel the implications of climate change as strongly as those who do not have as many resources, they experience more stress, find it harder to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and strive to improve the environmental circumstances around them. For instance, someone without access to an air conditioner would be more susceptible to heatwaves, and someone living in a less privileged area would be more affected by floods than those living in privileged estates.
It might be challenging to unwind or concentrate on everyday duties due to the ongoing stress and preoccupation with environmental issues. It becomes bothersome to always worry about addressing the planet or the climate and the poor progress made by people around us to improve climate change.
Additionally, eco-anxiety can result in depressive symptoms including sadness, a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and a pessimistic attitude on the future.
Relationships may also be strained, particularly if partners, family members, or friends do not share the same level of worry or comprehension. Conflicts and feelings of isolation can result from disparities in views and behaviours toward environmental concerns. We may end up feeling alone in the fight against environmental change.
Social media may also elicit heightened emotions about the same, such as the fomo of conforming with the number of environmental efforts made by those around us, such as avoiding consuming plastic items or littering. These comparisons might lead to feelings of alienation or exclusion with our narrative that follow ‘What am I doing wrong?’
Hence, eco-anxiety is a completely normal and valid emotional response to our planet's ecological predicament. The consequences on our mental health can be acute, impacting stress levels, emotional well-being, and interpersonal relationships. But we can manage eco-anxiety and contribute to a sustainable future by practicing self-care, finding assistance, concentrating on positive change, and taking meaningful action.
What have you been experiencing with the changes around you? What are the thoughts or emotions coming up for you?