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Turning eco-anxiety into positive action

Headshot image of Lauren Gordon, Bupa UK Behaviour Change Adviser
Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa UK
04 August 2021

Right now, climate change feels huge and overwhelming. Here, I talk about how to turn any worries and anxieties related to the climate crisis into positive behaviours and eco-friendly habits.

Eco-anxiety and eco-grief

Eco-anxiety is something many of us are feeling daily. Young people in particular are worried, depressed and angry about climate change. This is heightened by media coverage of rising temperatures, forest fires and melting ice caps. You may even be experiencing eco-grief, as we witness climate-related losses to animal species, ecosystems and landscapes.

It’s understandable that you may feel useless and powerless given the scale of the challenge. So have self-compassion; don’t feel guilty or shamed.

While it’s not a pleasant experience, anxieties about the climate crisis is a normal response. It signals to us that there’s something we need to pay attention to, there’s a threat and that we need to act now.

But action becomes more difficult if our feelings become overwhelming, inappropriate or unmanageable. Taking notice of your feelings and turning those into positive actions can support your wellbeing, but also make a difference for the planet.

How to reduce eco-anxiety

Taking positive action will ultimately make a difference. But firstly, learn how to reduce and control any climate-related anxiety that creeps in.

  • Recognise feelings of anxiety and grief as reasonable and a natural reaction. You aren’t alone in your feelings. Find comfort in the fact that millions of people across the world will be feeling exactly the same as you.
  • Use these feelings as motivation to act and focus on what you can control. ‘Think global but act local’ is a great phrase to help keep you focused on what’s within your control.
  • Be kind to yourself if you act in a way that doesn’t align with your climate change values. It’s important not to give up completely when this happens. Learn from the situation and think about what you could do differently in future. We can’t be perfect all the time. Modern life has evolved so that many of our behaviours do have an impact on the planet. That isn’t your fault, but we can each take steps to minimise our impact.
  • Educate yourself about climate change solutions. Don’t focus on the doom and gloom.
  • Spend time in nature to boost your mental wellbeing and feel more connected to the planet.

Taking positive action

Try not to feel overwhelmed by climate change. When something feels too big to deal with, like climate change, our brains will resist it and direct us towards an easier path.

To make sure your eco-friendly habits stick, start by making one or two small changes to live greener, and build them up over time. Collectively, we can come together and make a big difference.

  • Choose local, seasonal foods where possible.
  • Reduce food waste by planning meals in advance, using your freezer, and being creative with using up leftovers. Soups, pasta sauces and frittatas are easy to make with odds and ends and veg that’s past its best.
  • Use a compost bin for any unavoidable food waste.
  • Try growing your own herbs or vegetables, and boost biodiversity at the same time. It doesn’t have to be much; you don’t even need a garden. You can grow things like tomatoes, chillies or salad leaves on your windowsill.
  • Try to eat plant-based foods more often, such as lentils, pulses, tofu and mycoprotein. If you eat meat, try to reduce the amount you eat (especially red meat) and do your research into where it was sourced.
  • If you eat fish, try to buy it from sustainable sources or local fish mongers.
  • Have a reusable water bottle, coffee cup and cutlery for when you’re out and about to help reduce the amount of plastic you use.
  • Be sure you recycle all plastic packaging that can be recycled.
  • Buy clothes from second-hand shops, swap with friends or mend older garments.
  • Walk, cycle, run or use public transport instead of driving. Car share where possible when car journeys are unavoidable.
  • Take fewer international journeys on planes and use trains where possible.
  • Switch to a green energy supplier or tariff.
  • Research where your investments go (such as pension funds) to make sure they align with your values.
  • Use your washing machine at 30 degrees, switch off any lights you aren’t using and turn down your heating.

Further reading, TED talks and podcasts

If you’re worried about the future of our planet, there are some brilliant books, TED talks and podcasts addressing the issue. They may help you manage your feelings, feel more optimistic and give ideas of actions you can take.

Books

  • How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates
  • There is no Planet B by Mike Berners-Lee
  • The New Climate War by Michael Mann

Podcasts


TED Talks


Articles

Headshot image of Lauren Gordon, Bupa UK Behaviour Change Adviser
Lauren Gordon
Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa UK

    • A climate of anxiety. The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health 2021; 5(2):91. doi:10.1016/S2352-4642(21)00001-8
    • Cunsolo A, Ellis NR. Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Clim Change 2018; 8:275–81. doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0092-2
    • If you care about the environment, stop feeling guilty. Feel angry instead. Behavioural Scientist. behavioralscientist.org, published June 2020
    • Clayton S, Manning C, Hodge C. Beyond storms and droughts: The psychological impacts of climate change. American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica. ecoamerica.org, published 2014
    • Cunsolo A, Harper SL, Minor K, et al. Ecological grief and anxiety: the start of a healthy response to climate change? The Lancet Planetary Health 2020; 4(7):261–3. doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30144-3
    • Kirschner H, Kuyken W, Wright K, et al. Soothing your heart and feeling connected: a new experimental paradigm to study the benefits of self-compassion. Clin Psychol Sci 2019; 7(3):545–65. doi:10.1177/2167702618812438
    • Urgency and agency: Michael Mann on conquering climate despair. Behavioural Scientist. behavioralscientist.org, published April 2021
    • Bratman GN, Anderson CB, Berman MG, et al. Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science Advances 2019; 5(7):eaax0903. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aax0903
    • Franco LS, Shanahan DF, Fuller RA. A review of the benefits of nature experiences: more than meets the eye. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2017;14(8): 864. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080864
    • Marshall G. Don’t even think about it: why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. Bloomsbury USA; 1st ed (2014)
    • Citizen food waste prevention. Wrap. www.wrap.org.uk, published 4 February 2021
    • Eating patterns for health and environmental sustainability. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, published November 20218

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