Whether you have heard of “eco-anxiety” or not, chances are you have experienced it at one point or another. Although many are still denying that climate change exists, the media is bombarding us with the latest climate atrocities from the burning of the Amazon rainforest to the growing plastic crisis. This information takes a toll on people’s mental health. This entry focuses on explaining the background, meaning, and ramifications of eco-anxiety.
The climate crisis is a result of rising consumerism and an economic system centered on profit over climate. The first time the temperature significantly rose was during the Industrial Revolution; with great inventions came great costs for the environment. More recently, NASA found that 2010-2019 was the hottest decade to be recorded in history. According to the United Nations, we have less than ten years to avoid catastrophic climate change. Over last year’s General Assembly, speakers such as Greta Thunberg and the Secretary-General of the U.N stressed the need to take action to prevent irreversible change. But since then, not much has changed.
The American Psychological Association first defined eco-anxiety in 2017 as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” Last year, the world witnessed a new wave of massive protests demanding climate action. Since then, many activists, students, and essential workers have come forward stating their fear and frustration regarding the current climate crisis and the lack of leadership from the most powerful stakeholders.
In 2019, Oxford named eco-anxiety the Word of the Year. The Oxford website defines it as an “extreme worry about current and future harm to the environment caused by human activity and climate change.” Environmental consequences triggered by human activities have an impact on people’s mental health, most notably young ones. Evidence shows, more and more people are using the word eco-anxiety to express the way they feel.
Furthermore, mental health studies reveal a rise in people reporting stress and anxiety due to climate change. It should be noted that clinical anxiety disorder is not the same as eco-anxiety. Nonetheless, some experts suggest eco-anxiety can trigger other mental health problems such as depression, panic attacks, and other disorders. Even though eco-anxiety can feel overwhelming, it is important to know we have the ability to take matters into our hands to mitigate climate change.
Sustainability can take place at all levels. Companies and governments are taking longer to implement sustainable measures. However, you can start at a local level. Are there any community leaders advocating for sustainability? If yes, can you join them? Is there any way you diminish your CO2 print? If you feel lost, know that you are not alone. Find a group of like-minded individuals who eagerly fight for climate justice. Nowadays, these communities have a strong presence on social media.
The collective feeling of despair is affecting Generation Z the most. Thereby, making those who experience it feel powerless and too little to make a difference. Everyone experiences eco-anxiety in a different way; some experience it more intensely than others. Psychologists and environmentalists believe positive results can result from this. To be worried about wildfires or any other environmental issue means that you care.
The challenge lies in transforming fears into action to push for political, economic, and cultural change. Positive results can come from taking action, getting educated, focusing on resilience, and trying to stay optimistic. To overcome anxiety can be harder when the media is constantly depicting troubling information that does nothing to propose a solution to climate issues. Some experts recommend seeking professional help to relieve this form of anxiety when it becomes a burden that collides with carrying out daily activities.
For the sake of the planet, young people should know their voice has immense power. Fear should not paralyze their will to help stop systemic issues. The direct ramifications of overexploitation of resources will more likely affect poorer countries, displaced people, and other minorities who rely completely on nature.
Guissell is a young lady born and raised in Nicaragua, the heart of Central America. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and is deeply passionate about advocacy, human rights, and climate change. Despite being in lockdown, she has focused on speaking up about vital global issues through social media to trigger change. Lastly, her passions extend to coffee, good literature, and chocolates.