The other day, I stumbled upon an article on eco-anxiety. I’m generally skeptical of the notion that every stress in life needs a diagnosis or medical term, but this was one of those moments where I thought, “huh, this is exactly how I feel… I just didn’t have a name for it”. In this post, I discuss the question: What is Eco-Anxiety?
What is Eco-Anxiety?
Eco-anxiety is a disorder wherein you suffer from worrying about the state of the planet, or “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. It’s the feelings of helplessness, frustration, and sense of loss for the planet. It’s worrying about what the future holds for the world, and how it will impact ourselves, our children, and beyond… to the point that it hinders you physically and emotionally.
What’s the problem with the label eco-anxiety?
It’s completely valid to be anxious about the environment, climate change, plastic pollution, and general state of the planet. However, I can’t help but feel that by giving this anxiety a label, it’s shifting the focus back onto humans and individual need. It seems egotistical and even trendy.
For me, the anxiety I have is a chronic sense of foreboding. I’m constantly angry at people for being selfish, ignorant, and mindlessly over-consuming. It’s not healthy to feel rage almost daily. I’m sad when I see litter strewn on the roadside or dumped in communal areas, and I’m depressed by the overall lack of care in waste production and disposal. I am disgusted at the lack of respect and awareness for other living and non-living things (including fellow humans). The government’s (local ⇒global) lack of ambition and action frustrates me, as well as the continual priority of greed over green. I’m disappointed in myself that I’m not doing more.
My emotions swing from complete hopelessness and resignation that I will witness the deterioration of the planet in my lifetime, to determination and optimism that the changes I make matter and have an impact. Depressive mood swings and mild panic attacks do affect my quality of life, but I know that this isn’t simply down to “eco-anxiety”.
People suffer from anxiety for varying reasons, and it’s not my place question another person’s mental health. Yet, I recognise that my own anxiety is not purely caused by concern for the environment, it’s only one (large) factor. For instance, I get anxious about work, moving house, and the well-being of my family and friends. Labelling all my anxiety as “eco” would actually be detrimental to my health, and dismissive of my emotions. People have a lot of things to worry about.
What’s the benefit of eco-anxiety?
My anxiety drives me to do better. I don’t want this post to come off as preachy or pious because of course I’m not perfect, but it does astonish me how little people think about their actions. Whenever I can, I embrace my anxiety and question my actions to see where I can improve. I also question other people’s actions and encourage them to do better. Anxiety-fuelled environmental activism!
Having anxiety can be positive. I’m giving consideration and emotional energy to the planet and its issues, which are so much bigger than my own life and problems. If these feelings mean that I suffer from “eco-anxiety”, I’ll take that label, but only in recognition of humanity’s awareness of and concern for our sick planet.
Evidently, enough people are suffering from these anxious feelings about Earth to warrant giving it a name. An awful lot of people worrying about the environment is better than everyone being oblivious, right?! If each of us channels some of our anxiety into action and activism, a lot of positive change could happen!
It goes without saying that if you feel you need support or medical intervention for your mental health, please seek help! You have to look after yourself in order to help others.