Eco-anxiety is a rising phenomenon in young and old people alike, and in a world where we are constantly overloaded with information, asked to read this article or that Instagram post, is it any wonder? Climate doomism can be overwhelming, and it is quite easy to give over to the doom scroll of social media. Common suggestions to help deal with eco-anxiety suggest doing more, joining the climate movement or living more sustainably, but a world such as ours that is already often far too much, can doing more be the extent of the answer?
What exactly is eco-anxiety?
Ecological-anxiety, or eco-anxiety as it is more commonly known, has been defined as a chronic fear of climate or environmental doom; a fear of what will become of our planet in the face of uncertain changes and an anxious, emotional response to that very real fear. First studied in 2007, the research into eco-anxiety has increased significantly in recent years, with 78% of people studied in the UK in 2021 reporting experiencing some level of eco-anxiety (source).
However, to me eco-anxiety is a symptom of a larger sense of powerlessness that we are faced with in terms of the climate crisis. When we speak about the climate crisis, we speak in the language of extreme weather conditions, of carbon emissions and of economic impacts. We speak of green energy transitions, of environmental breakdown and of rising sea levels. It is, at times, overwhelming. More than that, I have never felt involved in these conversations – they happen in large international climate summits between governments, industry leaders and international organisations. No matter what I have to say, as an individual I feel powerless and infinitely small in these conversations.
So what can we do to reduce eco-anxiety?
The most common answer to this question is to get involved in the climate movement, to contribute to building that power. Find your local activist group and learn as much as you can about climate mitigation or just transitions, find a place in a movement that suits you and your skillset. Historically, people power is an incredibly effective tool in advocating for changes in society, from the civil rights movement in the US and the Suffragettes in the UK, to more recent examples such as the Black Lives Matter movement, Women’s Marches and trade union strikes, it is important to remember that politicians serve the people, not the other way around. If eco-anxiety is a fear of climate doom, a fear bolstered by a larger sense of political powerlessness, then working towards preventing that environmental extinction from happening, specifically, through building collective power, ought to help mitigate that fear.
The thing is, however, there’s more to it than that. The sense of overwhelm that often comes with eco-anxiety is not exclusive to feelings about the climate crisis. In a society that constantly demands something of us, that bombards us with notifications in our free time, demands long working hours, is it any wonder that we are overwhelmed and anxious? Can ‘do more’ really be the full extent of the answer to working against this fear and overwhelm? Activist burnout is a commonly reported problem within social movements, and it can stop entire causes in their paths. The thing is, any plausible solution is not just about doing more. It’s about doing things differently, it’s about changing our relationship to productivity, and allowing space for something else, a different form of resistance.
In the face of such demand and overwhelm, such anxiety and fear, taking a step away can undermine that rhetoric of constant demand – the very act of stopping, and instead centering things that bring us joy, or even doing nothing at all, can be an act of resistance. In a world that constantly expects something of us, refusing to give anything other than your own joy is really quite radical. More than that, for those of us whose joy is not often seen, for marginalised people, for people of colour and for queer people, it is a potent reminder that such a sense of joy is possible. Tricia Hersey from The Nap Ministry reframes rest as a form of resistance and in doing so, allows us to give space to the fears and overwhelm of eco-anxiety, while at the same time creating a space for a form of resistance that affects real change.
Pleasure and joy is going to take a different shape for everyone, finding what it looks like for you is your task. Follow the things that make you smile, embrace the things that bring you joy and hold on tight. Don’t just join an activist movement, but build a community of people who make you laugh. Share good food with them, and let that feeling of laughter and joy bolster you further into action. Make space for rest, both as a form of resistance itself and as a tool to further other forms of resistance.
For embracing rest, check out more from The Nap Ministry – https://thenapministry.com/. Emerging from Black liberation and Black feminism, it is a potent reminder that under capitalism, our bodies are mere tools for work, and resting them can be an act of resistance.
The Resistance Project provides resources for activists facing eco-anxiety and burnout, https://www.theresilienceproject.org.uk/, allowing young activists to centre resilience in their work.