If your fear and guilt about plastic pollution and climate change is keeping you up at night, you may be suffering from eco-anxiety.
“a chronic fear of environmental doom,”
…the definition alone is enough to make your chest tight.
By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of eco-anxiety.
In just a moment I will get to a list of tips to help you deal with stress and take a proactive approach to your feelings.
Afterwards I'll reveal a key nutrient that has been linked to anxiety disorders when missing from your diet.
And just to make sure there is plenty of positivity going round, I’m going to begin with some good news and end with 15 motivating quotes that can be applied to climate change (because who doesn’t love a good quote).
Always seek the advice of a doctor or mental health expert if you are concerned about your well-being.
Some positive changes that have happened in the last year:
The EU approved a ban on single use plastics, such as cotton buds, cutlery, straws and balloon sticks.
Renewable energy is finally on the rise in the UK, with coal falling by a quarter.
In May 2019, Britain had it’s first “coal free” week in over 100 years.
Zero waste stores opened all over the UK - giving people than don’t earn a high income the chance to avoid plastic packaging and reduce food waste.
Australia’s two largest supermarkets banned plastic bags resulting in a massive 80% drop nationwide.
A report from Greenpeace’s Detox campaign shows progress in reducing the amount of toxic chemicals in the fashion industry.
People all over the world are planting trees, and the search engine Ecosia are making that possible for anyone.
The world’s second largest coral reef (Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System) has been taken off the endangered list.
16 year old Greta Thunberg and her army of youthful activists went on a school strike for our planet. These kids will be in charge one day and the world will be a better place.
4Ocean have removed 4.7million tonnes of trash from the ocean (and created 300 jobs in the process).
Coming to terms with eco anxiety
It might feel like it sometimes, but you’re not alone.
The number of people panicking over melting glaciers, plastic in the ocean and toxic air pollution is increasing.
Through heatwaves and hurricanes, school strikes and peaceful protests – the lack of government response and action is frustrating.
So feeling like you're in the minority who are working hard to create a sustainable lifestyle can make you feel small and powerless.
It doesn’t help that many people, that are trying their best, are overwhelmed with guilt because they can't afford plastic-free organic food, or must rely on disposable products for medical reasons. Maybe you're struggling to give up meat, or can't face using cloth nappies.
Whatever it is, it’s okay.
You're only human.
As an individual what you're doing may seem small – but when you multiply it by millions of people, it creates a powerful ripple of change.
Tips for coping with climate change anxiety
Although I’m not a medical professional, I struggled with feeling scared and hopeless about climate change last year, and I’ve had anxiety my whole life so I thought I would share my tips for overcoming it.
I’m going to begin with my most important point first - what I truly believe will make a difference on a small and (eventually) large scale.
One of the biggest challenges with sustainable living and our fast-paced society is a feeling of disconnection from each other and from our purchases.
Capitalism and consumerism make a huge profit from separating us from the creators of our clothes, our food, our jewellery and our children’s toys.
These fast food, fast fashion, plastic-producing businesses have too much power, too much waste and too much money.
When I volunteered in rural Africa, the villagers had nothing but they were happy. The community of 5000 people knew each other, looked after their neighbours and all food and business was local.
I say we cut out the rich guys and start connecting again… what do you say?
Buy local food (or grow your own).
Support small businesses and markets.
Swap clothes with your friends instead of buying new.
Join a local zero waste or extinction rebellion group (or create one in your area).
Get to know your neighbours and chat to local business owners about the environment.
Go to town meetings, get involved in your local community issues, and email your MP regularly.
Talk to your friends and family about how you feel.
Do a weekly or monthly litter pick with your kids and friends - put it on FB and see if anyone else wants to come along.
Continue making small lifestyle changes and raise awareness this way (setting a positive example is usually the best way to get more people on board).
Join a sustainable living group on Facebook and inspire and support others.
Teach your children how important it is to look after the planet in age-appropriate nature themed activities.
Accept people with different beliefs and values.
Creating positive sustainable communities in real life and online will help you feel connected to the the planet and the people living on it.
If you want to find out about the community I’m building… click here.
Other ways to deal with your anxiety
Try to let go of any guilt you are feeling. Nobody is perfect (even if their Instagram appears that way). Focus on what you CAN do instead.
Does anyone else’s brain switch on when their head hits the pillow (usually for the first time that day)? I find it useful to keep a notepad or journal next to my bed or in my bag for those times when you have an overactive mind. Writing is a great way to release thoughts. You can even go back and deal with them at a more convenient time.
Talk to someone about your feelings (a friend, partner or therapist). It can help you feel supported and less alone. There is no shame in going to a doctor if you need extra support - it’s what they are there for.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. It seems obvious but it’s so important because sleep deprivation can affect your mood and cause other health problems.
Serotonin is made in the brain AND the gut. So eating well and munching on healthy unprocessed foods may improve your state of mind. Don’t starve because everything is covered in plastic (meal planning helps with this).
Breathing exercises can be super helpful if you're feeling overwhelmed or panicking.
Studies have shown that mindfulness can help reduce anxiety by helping you focus on the present instead of worrying about the future. Try and find 5-10 minutes twice day to practice. For more information and some great mindfulness exercises check out this blog.
Self care is so important and many people, especially parents, struggle with this one. Take time for yourself every day - go for a walk, read a book, have lunch with a friend.
DID YOU KNOW: Controlled studies have shown that people suffering with clinical anxiety have low levels of omega 3, therefore supplementing may reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Are you getting enough fatty acids?
Omega 3 fatty acids are ‘essential’ because it cannot be produced by the body, therefore it must be consumed through your diet.
The fatty acids that are thought to be most beneficial to people with anxiety or depression are called EPA and DHA (they have very long names).
How can omega 3 fatty acids help with anxiety?
Several clinical trials on humans have shown that supplementing with a high dose of omega 3 can reduce the symptoms of anxiety in some people, particularly in those going through a stressful event.
If you don’t regularly eat the food sources I’m about to list and can’t add them to your diet then it may be worth considering a supplement.
What about a plant based diet?
The most well known food source for omega 3 is oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines) but you need to be eating it three times a week.
Nowadays many people have a plant based diet.
People on a vegetarian or vegan diet (or who are trying to reduce their fish intake due to microplastics) are often told that you can get omega 3 from chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts, and while it is true that they are a source of omega 3, they are not a good source of EPA and DHA.
Seeds are a source of another omega 3 fatty acid called ALA which has to be converted into EPA and DHA in the body.
Why is this a problem?
This becomes a problem if you have more omega 6 in your diet than omega 3 because your body has to convert omega 6 too and in western countries we consume a LOT more omega 6.
Your body also needs more omega 3 than omega 6 because if your fatty acids are unbalanced it can throw your body out of whack, so if you're not eating lots of fish it may be worth reducing the oils you use.
You may find this difficult if you do a lot of frying because vegetable and seed oils are high in omega 6.
I solved this problem by replacing olive oil with coconut oil when baking and frying.
I HATE the taste of coconut so I use this one which costs less than a fiver and lasts for aaages.
DID YOU KNOW: 46% of plastic in the ocean comes from fishing nets. Fish are a source of omega 3 because they EAT the algae. Therefore a good algae supplement will be higher strength DHA and more sustainable than fish.
These are the algae capsules I take, although I try to limit my intake of omega 6 and eat lots of chia and flaxseeds because they are so good for you.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional - if you are on any blood thinning medication or have a surgery planned, please talk to your doctor before supplementing with omega 3.
15 inspiring life quotes to help deal with climate change anxiety
I’ve chosen the following quotes because they made me feel positive.
With so much negativity everywhere, it can help to start your day off with some inspirational words.
Sometimes you just need some motivation, y’know?
You can add your favourites to a mood lifting Pinterest board too and refer back to them whenever you need a boost.
“Its the little things that citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees,” (Wangari Maathai).
“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world," (Howard Zinn).
“Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘it can’t be done,’” (Eleanor Roosevelt).
“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it,” (Kahlil Gibran).
“It’s OKAY to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave,” (Mandy Hale).
“Just because you are struggling doesn’t mean you are failing,” (Unknown).
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, its the only thing that ever has,” (Margaret Mead).
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving what you don’t,” (Steve Maraboli)
"Fear is not real. The only place fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist," (Cypher Raige).
"As consumers we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy," (Emma Watson).
"Don't ever forget that you're a citizen of this world and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit," (Aaron Sorkin).
"The only way to overcome fear is to have courage. Because you're not going to get rid of fear.
It's not going to go away. But it can overtake you.
Or you can overtake it."
"I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me," (Rumi).
"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples," (Mother Teresa).
“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying where there seemed to be no hope at all,” (Dale Carnegie).
Is climate change making you feel anxiety? Having a community is important, nobody has to go through this alone - don't forget to connect with me on Instagram.
What's your best technique for dealing with difficult emotions?