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Learn & Practice

Well-Being Tip: Processing Eco-Anxiety

By The Healthy Minds Team

In this week’s Well-Being Tip, we explore how to create a healthier relationship with eco-anxiety.

Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash 

In 2020, the American Psychiatric Association released a poll showing that more than two-thirds of Americans (67%) are somewhat or extremely anxious about the impact of climate change on the planet. This mental health concept is known  as “eco-anxiety,” a term that refers to persistent worries about the future of Earth and the life it shelters.

As each day brings new headlines like, “A Hotter Future is Certain, Climate Panel Warns,” for doom scrolling, it is easy to become paralyzed with feelings of hopelessness or even anger. Unlike other challenging emotions, eco-anxiety has the added difficulty of creating a circle of hopelessness because it can feel like one individual can do very little for such a large-scale global problem.

In addition to feelings of stress, hopelessness and anger – eco-anxiety can manifest in challenges with relationships, difficulty sleeping, and trouble concentrating. Climate change is a global problem, but can feel like an individual one – an individual one that you cannot control – leading to a cycle of anxiety and an inability to quell the anxiety through action.

So how do you cope? Like so many things learned in the Healthy Minds Framework for Well-Being, eco-anxiety is about working with your challenging emotions, not avoiding them.

Here are some tips to create a healthier relationship with eco-anxiety:

  • Limit your negative news spiral by focusing on climate change messages that aren’t only capitalizing in fear – stories with more focus on facts, hope, or ways to help can provide a balance to your eco-information.
  • Spend time noticing how your eco-anxiety manifests in your body (e.g. when you’re reading an article, does your chest constrict?) and your thoughts (e.g. what is your thinking when you see a new piece of climate news?). Instead of shooing away these feelings and thoughts, just notice them. Sit with them. Invite them in.
  • Find ways to experience joy in nature. The best way to counter your negativity bias is to seek out positive experiences. You can celebrate our interdependence with nature and gain the mental health benefits of being in nature for yourself by seeking out experiences like hiking, biking, swimming or just “being”  in your environment.
  • Take action – where you can. Give yourself compassion – you cannot fix the world. But to feel less hopeless, try to identify where you individually can make a difference.

Finally, the Healthy Minds Program app features a meditation from frequent collaborator and Loka Initiative Director, Dr. Dekila Chungyalpa that you can turn to help you work with eco-anxiety. You can also tune in and transform your fear and distress over the environmental and climate crises using the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Tonglen with this meditation, Tonglen for Eco-Anxiety. If you’re noticing your body reacting to climate change news – find a quiet spot (in nature!), take 10 minutes, and give yourself the gift of this practice as an alternative to feelings of hopelessness and dread. Good luck!

Get more practices and tips by downloading the Healthy Minds Program App, freely available thanks to the generosity of our donors wherever you get your apps.

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