My Eco-Anxiety Goblin is Named Anthony.
There are days when I feel a crushing sense of anxiety because of climate change. It’s on those days that I look at everything that we are doing to fight climate change and I whisper to myself that it will never be enough. Those are the days that I gaze tiredly at yet another headline about how the fossil fuel industry has successfully convinced our government to continue justifying building new fossil fuel infrastructure. Those are the days when I have those feelings of defeat that cloud every action - why bother writing another word? Why bother recycling? Why bother dreaming of zero-emission public transit?
Those days are awful, but to be honest, although those days keep me from doing anything productive, they are also the reason why I decided to start EcoThink Productions, and why I have systematically started joining community environmental groups.
I have learned recently that the feeling I feel on those days is called eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety is a term that was only recently coined in 2017 by the American Psychology Association to describe chronic or severe anxiety related to our relationship with the environment. It is not an official diagnosis yet, but it is a term that is being used with increasing popularity across the western world, and has been felt by people around the world to varying degrees.
Some people experience eco-anxiety in far more tangible ways that I can even imagine. People living in areas of the world that are experiencing very real and very bad impacts of climate change on their lives and livelihoods. Floods, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, all of those increasingly strong impacts that climate change levies against many regions of the world today. My own experience with eco-anxiety has yet to become that intense.
My eco-anxiety is an insidious force that plagues my every move. It takes the shape of a skinny little gremlin that stinks of oil and growls “why bother” in the back of my head when I try to make choices that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly. It shouts that I am a tiny cog in an impossibly imperfect machine, that all efforts of change should be squashed. It laughs in discordant glee when yet another company or institution is proven to have engaged in yet more incremental green-washing instead of meaningful transformational change.
If you are like me and feel like you also have a skinny little gremlin inside your brain, you know that the only time it ever seems to shut up is when you prove that you are not alone, that you are taking action, and that you are taking care of yourself. Here in Victoria, we are insanely lucky to not currently be feeling intense climate change effects yet, but we all know that they are coming down the line. It is normal to feel anxious about that, and I believe one of the biggest ways to surmount that anxiety and to move forward is to fight against the need to curl into a ball into our room and believe that we are alone.
Now, a quick caveat to this is that I am not a medical professional, so I will not claim that you should follow my advice over that of a doctor or psychologist. All I am pointing out is that for myself, my eco-anxiety gremlin (I feel like he should be named Anthony) tends to shut up and leave me alone when I have actively made steps to be a part of my community.
This is why I have joined several community climate organizations in the last month. Even though we can’t meet in person due to the pandemic, Zoom calls with these people who are all active in making change in their communities and who are encouraging me to do the same has been a balm in the face of the divisive and circular rhetoric Anthony the gremlin likes to spout. And the thing is, I feel like I am coming late to the party, but I know that there are many others out there who have yet to find a way to join a climate movement themselves.
I should make it clear that I am not a natural joiner. I tend to think very individualistically, and my introverted nature tends to make me reluctant to be a part of a group of people when I am much more comfortable being alone. But here’s the thing, that wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t getting anything done except complaining and reading too many doom-and-gloom headlines. Now at least I have the accountability and support of other people who can show me that I am not alone in feeling anxious, that there are positive stories of active change-making happening, and that when we act together we are far more powerful than when we act alone.
I suppose this article is an appeal to anyone out there who feels like they are alone too. You might be a small business owner, paralyzed by all the “shoulda-woulda-coulda” that is levied at you about what to do with greening your business. You might be a landlord, simultaneously feeling guilty about the housing and climate crises and uncertain about how to make changes in the face of the ever popular blame game levied against you. You might be a homeowner, certain that you are taking every step that you can within your budget and feeling paralyzed about what to do next. You might be a renter, furious that you have no control over how your building is heated. You might be an employee, going pay-check to pay-check and wishing you had the energy to effect change in the workplace but just fed up with always putting in more effort than you are paid for. These experiences and more are all valid, and all may be inducing a certain degree of eco-anxiety in your life.
The key to changing this narrative is communication and community. Let’s hang up the cycle of shame and blame, and instead focus on real communication and interactive community. Let’s have hard conversations, bolster each other up, call on each other to improve, and hold each other accountable. Let’s applaud successes, and commiserate failures. Let’s look at each other as team-members, no longer as competitors. We acknowledge that we are all imperfect, and we all have work to do. But most importantly, none of us are alone. By taking these steps, we can surround our anxiety gremlins with real, measurable, and loving acts of activism, self-care, and community engagement, showing him that his worries and concerns are heard, valid, and being met with solutions.
I invite you to comment and share your eco-anxiety story with me and to take that first step. If you want to share a community group that people are welcome to join, you can message me via email or social media. If you want to learn more about eco-anxiety and what you can do to mitigate it's effects on your life, check out www.ecoanxious.ca.