How to cope with eco anxiety: Turning fear into action

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The recent rise in media coverage of the climate crisis has had a twofold effect.

Firstly, it’s galvanised many into action, causing them to rethink their wasteful habits and look at what they can do to reduce their overall carbon footprint.

For others though, the increased awareness of the detrimental effects of our ever-growing reliance on fossil fuels, the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and the damage caused by plastic pollution has resulted in many people experiencing “eco anxiety”.

Described by Psychology Today as “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis”, sufferers of eco anxiety report feeling highly anxious and stressed when faced with news about climate change, with symptoms including panic attacks, insomnia, obsessive thinking and loss of appetite.

Even if you’re not suffering from the more extreme symptoms of eco anxiety, many people feel some degree of concern or stress about what the future will bring in a world affected by climate change. I certainly fall within this camp.

Whenever I come across a news headline about extreme weather patterns or an event such as the recent Amazon fires I feel anxious and grow ever-concerned that we won’t be able to reduce global carbon emissions enough to stall the planet’s warming.

Eco warriors weigh in on how to deal with eco anxiety

Over the past couple of months I have spoken with many environmentally conscious women for my Q&A series. Many of them are entrepreneurs who are as concerned about climate change as I am, and who are determined to do something about it by launching businesses that attempt to heal our planet rather than harm it.

Their ventures are diverse – from beauty and fashion to cleaning products and wedding planning – and each of these inspiring entrepreneurs are committed to changing the way we consume, shop and live through their sustainable enterprises.

Given eco anxiety is on the rise, I asked these eight entrepreneurs how they deal with their own anxiety when it comes to the climate crisis and their advice for others who are experiencing these same feelings.

Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed

Talia Borda, founder of That Red House

Talia Borda

Talia Borda

I understand that we stand on the brink of environmental devastation. We are peering over the edge of disaster, but right now; we have the vision. We are not yet there.

We can do something about it before it is too late. We can change our ways today and reverse what we have done. As one person, of course we cannot change the overall trajectory. But we are one person with the capacity to band together and be many. And together we have the power.

Don’t be overwhelmed – be the one person who constitutes part of the many. Do everything you can, and know you are part of the solution. If we all adopt the idea that we are part of the many, things will change. Make the changes, see the changes.

Try not to strive for perfection, it’s unrealistic

Samantha Leigh, founder and CEO of eco|mono

Samantha Leigh

Samantha Leigh

It is very tough, and if I’m being completely transparent, I suffer from eco-anxiety A LOT! I am constantly asking myself, how can I do better? Is what I am doing making any difference?

I sometimes feel like once you go down the rabbit hole of climate change it’s hard to pull your head out.

But you asked, how do I ward off eco anxiety? Honestly, some days I am better at being environmentally friendly than others and on those not-so-good days, I literally have to say to myself (out loud!), “It’s okay not to be perfect all the time, start again tomorrow”.

I think we all put so much pressure on ourselves, it’s important not to hold yourself to such a high standard when it comes to being environmentally friendly all of the time. Otherwise, then you stop and do nothing because it all seems too hard.

Take a step back and start afresh the next day.

Think positively and just do your best 

Marion O’Leary, founder and director of Mokosh

Marion O’Leary

Marion O’Leary

I have to admit that eco anxiety sometimes makes me want to hide under a blanket and just give up! Particularly when it’s clear that living more lightly on the planet is just not on the agenda for so many people. 

When I’m feeling like this I tell myself it’s important to think positively and just keep going. And if along the way I can influence just one person to make a change, it makes a difference to the state of our planet. And that person in turn can influence others. Once a chain reaction starts, things can change rather quickly and a new way of living can become the norm. 

We are just one small business, but we do the best we possibly can. If we influence just a small number of people to think the same way, we can help speed up that chain reaction.

Acceptance is the first step

Corina Ryan, cofounder of Willow by the Sea

Corina Ryan

Corina Ryan

Climate change really is something we all need to be super aware of and understand it is currently the biggest threat to mankind as a whole (just the thought of that may raise anxiety rather than ward it off).

I think acceptance of this is really the best first step, after which deciding to make small individual choices that begin to reduce your footprint.

Things like reducing anything you purchase where plastic is heavily used and beginning to follow a zero waste mentality. Start to consider minimalism as a good thing, and start to increase the ratio of plants consumed in your diet versus meat and processed goods.

At the end of the day we simply want to leave the earth in a place where the next generation gets to experience nature in all its beauty, the same way we did.

Small changes make a big difference

Vinita Baravkar, founder of Bhumi

Vinita Baravkar

Vinita Baravkar

Eco anxiety can be very overwhelming but we cannot stop. I was recently trained at the Al Gore Climate Reality Leadership Training and the biggest message was to keep it simple, take steps, but don’t stop.

We need to help each other through this. We have to keep trying to turn this ship around and if we have more hands on deck with people doing small things every day we can do it.

Small shifts done by so many people become big shifts and make a big difference.

I would take a bird’s eye view of your life and see where you can introduce small ways to make changes that work within your life and budget.

Always be prepared

Andrea Galas, founder and creator of Babs Bodycare

Andrea Galas

Andrea Galas

I understand how people can feel quite overwhelmed with the choices we face day-to-day, and trying to make changes we can commit to and maintain well into the future.

Being prepared is key. Take your KeepCup, cutlery and reusable material bags with you. None of us are perfect and there is a great quote I’ve seen floating around: ‘”It’s only one straw” said 7 billion people’. Everything we do makes an impact and if you’re making small changes daily it’s all making a positive impact.

There are also a couple of Instagram accounts I really like that help with tips and tricks, and really help educate and get me thinking. A few of my favourites are Take 3 for the Sea, Be An Unfucker and Joost Bakker.

Put your faith in the next generation

Sandra Henri, founder of Less Stuff More Meaning

Sandra Henri

Sandra Henri

Overwhelmed is probably the best way to describe how I feel about the gravity of climate change, and our continued apathy and denial. But then again, it’s human nature to avoid things that are painful, or shield ourselves from what’s distressing.

How I personally protect myself is (and this may sound harsh) but I can’t #giveashit about everything. I can’t read all the emails, social campaigns and climate updates, because sometimes I feel like my caring tank is empty.

I’m doing my bit, in my personal life, my business and my industry. Someone else will have a different passion to me, and work hard in their own sphere to make a difference.

If we all lived with purpose in our own way, together that would be enough. Fear and guilt are certainly not motivating; it feels much better to focus on what we can actually achieve through our combined efforts.

The thing that reassures me is that our collective awareness is most definitely shifting, as conservative beliefs seem so out of place now. The contrast is really apparent, and that’s a good thing, it means we are evolving. Sometimes we need to experience the things we don’t want, to become much clearer about the things we do.

And our kids are not far off becoming consumers and voters themselves. No pressure, but all my hopes are on the next generation of confident, outspoken and aware change makers. Together we can kick some serious climate change butt!

Channel anxiety into action

Vanessa Murillo, cofounder of I am Grounded

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We think there are a lot of people who feel anxious, and have so many questions about their futures and the future of our planet.

I felt so anxious about the state of our coffee industry for so many years that my partner and I decided to do our bit. Our motto is all about making a daily impact.

I think using your passion and knowledge/skill set to make a difference is more empowering and a better way to channel that anxiety into action.

The new age of eco conscious businesses are businesses focused on making an impact via a cause, contribution or fundamentally serving a unique product.

My final thoughts…

While combating climate change may seem like an insurmountable task, it’s through deliberate and considered action that we’ll start to make a difference.

Although in large part it’s up to politicians and big business to turn our current (wasteful) way of living around, the individual choices we make in our homes can help prompt that change.

There is a groundswell of individuals banding together to have their voices heard. Extinction Rebellion’s forces are growing. Change is coming.

Feeling inspired to help tackle the climate crisis? Join the Global Climate Strike on September 20th. Take to the streets and demand an end to the age of fossil fuels. Make a difference. Help usher in the change. Save our planet. It’s the only one we have.