Conquering Eco-anxiety, an unheard impact of climate change

Eco-anxiety gives rise to existential concerns such as loneliness, identity, pleasure, purpose, mortality, and freedom.

Fiji has strongly advocated safeguarding nature against the impact of climate change on all international platforms. Deputy Prime Minister Prof. Biman Prasad’s op-ed “Growth in the Pacific: Mobilising climate finance” (4th March 2024, Fiji Times) stated:

“The climate crisis is the gravest threat; the gravest challenge to security; to the well being and the stability of Pacific societies and economies…. we feel the impacts of climate change on our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure…. increase in cost of food and other essential items… impacts of climate change on our social structure.”

Similar message was given in Letter to editor (Fiji Times, 3 March 24) “Climate Change” by Kirti Patel, has shown concern about how climate change is impacting small Islands nations in various forms. 

The issue of climate change is also acknowledged as a significant global health hazard in the 21st century, affecting public health globally. This includes the consequences of gradual climate change and its influence on mental health, referred to as eco-anxiety. The related terms included Legg’s (2020) “eco-trauma”, “climate change distress” and “ecological grief.” 

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Eco-anxiety is a developing psychological condition caused by worries related to climate change or strong feelings of concern, apprehension, and powerlessness in response to environmental degradation. It is defined as psychological suffering resulting from concerns about climate change and its impact on the future.

Emphasise the growing occurrence of eco-anxiety among people and communities globally. The underlying reasons for eco-anxiety include environmental catastrophes, media portrayal, and individual encounters with climate-related incidents. Many people around the globe develop eco-anxiety, so this issue needs to be discussed at large and suitable cures to contain the impact. 

This op-ed gives a symptomatic review to delve into the intricacies of eco-anxiety and examine methods for promoting resilience and empowerment in the era of climate change.

Legg (2020) explained that the other potential symptoms of eco-anxiety included:

“anger or frustration, particularly toward people who don’t acknowledge climate change or older generations for not making more progress; fatalistic thinking; existential dread; guilt or shame related to your carbon footprint; post-traumatic stress after experiencing effects of climate change; feelings of depression, anxiety, or panic; grief and sadness over the loss of natural environments or wildlife populations; obsessive thoughts about the climate; [this can lead to] sleep problems, appetite changes [and] difficulty concentrating.”

Eco-anxiety may result in feelings of powerlessness, despair, and a lack of hope for the future. Many researchers such as Clayton and Karazsia (2020) state that “eco-anxiety is conceptualized as a mash-up of negative emotions like worry, guilt, and sadness.” 

Others, Kurth and Pihkala (2022), have discussed “climate emotions” and “ecological emotions” in general terms. When they mention specific eco-emotions like “eco-grief,” “eco-anger,” and “eco-anxiety,” they use these labels and related empirical measures to describe various emotional reactions. 

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Eco-anxiety gives rise to existential concerns such as loneliness, identity, pleasure, purpose, mortality, and freedom. The phenomena as Passmore, Lutz and Howell (2023) argue lead to the degradation and disruption of ecosystems and landscapes can lead to a diminished sense of coherence, connectedness, and continuity and, consequently, a diminished sense of meaning in life.

Individuals facing the magnitude of the climate issue often suffer similar symptoms, such as anxiety, despair, and feelings of helplessness. Eco-anxiety has a greater impact on marginalised populations [indigenous communities, people living in coastal or islanders, economically disadvantaged groups, (people who work closely to land and sea, high-risk areas), young children and senior citizens, inclusive people or people having chronic health issues (Legg, 2000)] that are more susceptible to the negative consequences of climate change, worsening current disparities.

Provide various coping mechanisms for persons facing eco-anxiety, such as mindfulness techniques, finding social support, and participating in activism. Generally, many researchers emphasise the significance of self-care and sustaining a feeling of hope and positivity when confronted with overwhelming environmental obstacles. 

Engage with others who have similar interests and values. Engage with a local environmental organisation or take part in environmental advocacy efforts. Discover ways to enhance your knowledge of environmental concerns and actively participate. Self-engagement to make life greener and inculcate practices in lifestyle to make the climate more sustainable.

Further, implementing specific actions such as decreasing energy use and practising recycling might mitigate concerns related to climate change. Another measure to contain eco-anxiety is to consume media in a mindful manner and be informed, but too much consumption of negative information enhances eco-anxiety. 

The authenticity of the news should be checked before believing it and avoiding sensational news can help in maintaining a balance in life. Highlight the importance of community-level resilience in dealing with eco-anxiety and stresses associated with climate change.

Engaging in local gardening, garbage collection, or waste reduction activities may help alleviate eco-anxiety. Receiving emotional and social support may enhance resilience, leading to higher levels of optimism and hope.

Taking action empowers individuals and serves as an effective remedy for eco-anxiety. Engaging in climate action, promoting sustainable legislation, and backing environmental organisations may transform emotions of powerlessness into impactful transformation. Suggest methods for creating stronger and more enduring communities, such as funding renewable energy, establishing climate-resistant infrastructure, and emphasising environmental equity.

Simple methods of talking about the issue within the family to create awareness and collectively take actions to reduce this anxiety and appreciation of nature together is a useful means to develop positive emotions towards climate’s future. Lastly, seeking assistance for additional support by consulting health and mental health professionals can be useful. A sense of positiveness and practicality needs to be developed among the masses, and necessary measures should be adopted to contain the impact of eco-anxiety. 

We need to maintain a balance between being aware of the challenges and having a feeling of agency and optimism to create room for advocating for change. Measures should be taken by everyone towards constructive change by safeguarding the environment and working together towards reducing climate change. Collectively, we can convert fear into resilience and uncertainty into opportunity. Let’s actively combat climate change rather than become passive observers and save the world for future generations.  

Contributing Author: Dr Sakul Kundra is an Associate Dean (Research) and Associate Professor at the College of Humanities, Education and Law at Fiji National University. The views expressed are his own and not of this newspaper or his employer. 

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