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I Had Eco Anxiety And These 5 Things Helped Me Cope With It!

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

If you have ever felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety and urgency about the current state of our planet’s environment, you are not alone. You are among the extremely large number of people who suffer from what the global psychological academia defines as eco-anxiety. This anxiety or existential dread stems from the sudden as well as insidious changes in the planet’s environment, which definitely cast an ominous shadow over our collective future as a species.

It also has roots in the fear and guilt of not being able to do anything in the face of an impending catastrophe, the signs of which are dangerously evident: from the gradual melting of icecaps in the polar regions of the planet to wildfires that reduce hectares of forest land to ash to oceans choking with plastic and the list go on and on. While being faced with such grim realities, it is ever so hard to be sanguine about what lies ahead.

Eco-anxiety
Eco-anxiety/Representational image.

This anxiety and sense of foreboding among people was first conceptualized by the American Psychological Association, the central and largest American psychologist organization in 2017. The APA defines the term eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.”

According to the APA, a rapidly warming planet can have “resounding chronic psychological consequences” since these subsequent disasters can surface diversity of emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, exhaustion, stress, powerlessness and helplessness.

Hence, it is correctly said that the impacts of climate change are measured not only in water shortages, wildfires, and hurricanes but also the pace at which our mental health is eroding. These statements are backed by empirical data collected by the Harvard Medical School, soon after Hurricane Katrina rampaged through the states of the USA.

The research paper published by the University indicates that suicide and suicide ideation doubled after the calamity struck. Another paper that was led and brought out by Columbia University suggests that 1 in 6 people affected by the cyclone in one way or the other, met the criteria for PTSD. Thus, we see a direct and unmistakable link between climate change and mental health. The other health conditions linked directly to experiencing the impacts of climate change, according to the APA, are:

  • trauma and shock
  • compounded stress
  • strains on social relationships
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • suicide
  • substance abuse
  • aggression and violence
  • loss of autonomy
  • loss of personal and occupational identity
  • feelings of helplessness, fear, and fatalism

Other symptoms that indicate the presence of eco-anxiety include loss of appetite, insomnia, and reduced socialization with the people around you.

To compound this issue, people may also experience the feelings of fear and guilt that surfaces a result of the inability to feel like they are making a sizeable contribution in the fight against the environmental crisis or that they are able to do their part in this collective struggle. They may find it difficult to navigate credible information pertinent to the environment, grapple with the challenges of the larger than life impacts of a rapidly warming planet or even aptly understand the miscellany of crises that envelope us.

It is natural to feel helpless and hopeless in the face of seemingly irrevocable changes in the climatic conditions of the planet we inhabit, but there is a way out. I have been preyed upon by this dreaded existential anxiety back in the summer of 2019, when my city, Delhi, experienced its hottest summer in years, and the temperatures soared up to 48C.

This, while Chennai, a South Indian city that houses over 9 million people, reeled under a record-breaking drought and water crisis, various countries of Europe scorched under unforgiving heatwaves, the Arctic Circle was up in flames, Greenland lost over 600 billion tonnes of ice, and nobody seemed to be doing anything about it. Each day passed as slowly and as excruciatingly as possible.

I was guilt-ridden, reduced meetings with friends, gave up meals and was in constant worry and daze. Having been inflicted by this climate change-induced anxiety myself, I can assure anyone out there, reading this, that there is a way out. All it requires is acknowledging one’s feelings and internal sufferings since the first step in alleviating a problem is to recognize it. Here are some ways to help lessen your eco-anxiety: 

Having been inflicted by this climate change-induced anxiety myself, I can assure anyone out there, reading this, that there is a way out/ Representational image.

Learn About What’s Making You Suffer

Reading up on the various environmental issues and getting to know the facts help to build a context around the problem, which makes it look manageable to allay the problem along with one’s worries and uncertainties. Refer strictly to credible sources of information and be cautious of any misinformation that you might encounter.

Recognize The Importance Of Logging Out

This may be a continuation of the first point itself. The purpose is to build boundaries around what and how much information you are consuming. Reading too much on a specific issue may lead to you being bogged down by the pressure. It may also serve to trigger you. Hence, it is extremely vital to consume news and information rationally and judiciously. Another way of setting and reinforcing your boundaries may be to curate your sphere of influence on social media. If you see a lot of posts flashing ‘scary statistics’ without any actions or solutions, follow accounts that make you feel better. Logging out would prevent you from slipping into negative spirals.

Reconnect With Nature

The fact that you are worried about the environment is an indication that you care about the environment. Take some time off your 24/7 news cycle and reconnect with what we’re all fighting for. Getting a breath of fresh air or going for regular forest bathing may be some ways you could reconnect with nature.

Join A Community

As it is evidently clear that fighting climate change alone is impossible. So, it is vital to join and actively engage with a community of like-minded individuals who are just as passionate about the environment as you are. You could be a part of online forums, be a part of your local Extinction Rebellion and Fridays For Future meetings, or form your community to lighten the load. Socialize with others, shake hands, pass smiles, share ideas, and join hands to, collectively, save the world.

Give It Back, One Day At A Time

 It is very helpful for a person who is struggling with the fear and stress of climate change to play his/her part positively and actively. Organize or attend beach cleanups, plantation drives, plugging marathons and awareness programs, support sustainable brands and shops, buy locally and defund capitalist infrastructures to contribute to the movement, and feel good. However, remember not to burden yourself with unrealistic expectations. One day at a time!

Note: To reiterate what is pretty self-explanatory, I am not a therapist or a professional. If you feel you need professional intervention, go for it. Seek help and leverage therapy if it’s getting too overwhelming. All the points suggested above are the steps that helped me trudge out of the dark place I was pushed into. This was everything from my knowledge about this theme I feel so passionately about. I hope it helped.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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