Eco-anxiety: how to put stress about melting ice caps on freeze
Youngsters are increasingly caving under the chronic fear of environmental doom
“Twelve years left to save the planet” read one recent headline; “one million species on the brink of extinction” read another.
Little wonder that eco-anxiety – a chronic fear of environmental doom – is attracting growing attention, particularly as a problem among younger generations.
Although not yet listed in the mental health manual DSM-5, professional organisations such as the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Wellcome Trust have written about it.
In 2017, an APA report called for an increased focus on the mental health consequences of climate change.
Symptoms of eco-anxiety include anxiety, depressed mood, insomnia, and feelings of loss, fear and helplessness.
Symptoms in children may also include separation anxiety and somatisation – signs suggestive of physical illness but without physical explanation, such as stomach aches, headaches and extreme fatigue.
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has told how learning about climate change contributed to the crippling depression she has suffered. “I overthink,” said Thunberg, 16.
“In school, our teachers showed us films of plastic in the ocean, starving polar bears and so on. I cried through all the movies. My classmates were concerned when they watched the film, but when it stopped they started thinking about other things. I couldn’t do that. Those pictures were stuck in my head.”
Concern about the state of the planet is unavoidable – and bans on cotton buds, as announced in Britain last week, can seem like a drop in the ocean.
But if you or your children are suffering with eco-anxiety, what can you do to alleviate the distress that’s stopping you from carrying out your normal activities, and make whatever positive difference you can? Start by targeting symptoms.
Limit caffeine and alcohol; stop smoking; go to bed and get up at regular times whenever possible.
Turn off all screens and avoid reading material about climate change during the last two hours before bed.
Get outside in natural light for at least 20 minutes every day, preferably to take a walk during which you invoke a mindful attitude, appreciating the good things we have now.
Spend time regularly with people who matter the most to you.
If symptoms continue to overwhelm, see your GP and ask for some cognitive behavioural therapy or, better yet, mindfulness-based CBT.
But don’t stop there. As Elise Amel at the University of St Thomas, Minnesota, writes, it is important to acknowledge distress, but we must also change our behaviours and priorities to reawaken a sense of control.
This is also key to helping your children. If they see you taking action – cycling or walking, reusing and recycling – and calling for organisations to become more eco-friendly, they’ll feel less helpless and pessimistic.
Most importantly, take time to listen carefully to their environmental concerns.
Help them to talk about what they can do, rather than what they feel they must limit, and help them to act in ways they believe are important.
Their concerns are paramount – the future is theirs more than ours.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)