Fears for the future of life on Earth are different to other forms of anxiety, and require a different response.
The climate emergency is fuelling a mental health crisis that affects all ages, but particularly the young, and the inaction of elders and authority figures is making the problem worse.
Eco-anxiety has been described as a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster. It’s not officially a mental health disorder, which is just as well, as it’s one perfectly logical response to the constant flow of bad environmental news about the future of life on our planet.
In Australia one recent study found that almost 87% of Australian tweens were seriously worried about climate change.
Even in the US, where scientific information about environmental threats are most muddied by those interests who are profiting from them in the short term, climate change has become a significant source of mental stress.
Bushfires and other natural disasters, coral bleaching, pollution and mass extinctions are just a few of the ever-multiplying triggers for ecological anxiety, which makes up an increasing percentage of the anxiety suffered by an estimated two million Australians.
Justified or not, like all severe forms of anxiety, eco-anxiety can be crippling if not addressed.
What to do?
The response of many people is to distract themselves from the crisis, or in the case of parents, to attempt to hide their children from the reality of what is happening.
Unfortunately, putting a piece of gaffer tape over a bright red flashing emergency light is a temporary solution at best.
A much better approach is to not just be a passive recipient of depressing information, but to get active. Kids and adults alike can make real, visible differences, in their own lives, and on their own patch of ground.
Plant a tree. If you don’t have enough land for that, plant a vege patch, or grow something in a pot.
Join a group that’s trying to help the health of the local creek, or dune system, or bush remnant.
Do something in nature, and remind yourself that humans are just a part of the natural world. Get reconnected with your own self as a being on this planet, and then connect with other earthlings, and not just humans.
Hug a tree. Ride a bike. Paddle a boat. Walk somewhere. Try to look further than your nearest screen.
Learn and act
Learn more about the science around what’s going on, and look at ways to lessen your personal environmental footprint.
Talk to others and join groups who are trying to turn the human Titanic away from the approaching metaphorical icebergs.
Have a look at some of the inspirational actions taken by School Strike 4 Climate Australia and their sister organisations around the world.
The Kids Helpline is there to talk about eco-anxiety and other concerns.
Get politically active about the issues that are important to you – in your school, in your community and beyond.
Find the thing that you can do to help. Whoever you are, whatever your skill set, there’s some unique thing you have to offer to help address the climate emergency. Find out what it is and get on with it!
Don’t be helpless, because you’re not, whatever your age.
Listen to that sticker on the fridge and be the change you want to see in the world. That way you’ll convert your anxiety into meaningful change.