Eco-anxiety and taking imperfect action

How are you feeling about the environmental challenges we face?

Are there simply too many other challenges in your life right now to add the climate crisis to the mix - or is it something that keeps you awake at night?

Yesterday I had the amazing (and frankly, terrifying!) experience of speaking on This Morning about eco-anxiety - what it feels like, how we can manage it, and how we turn that anxiety into positive action.

For me, in the early days of motherhood, mothering itself was such a struggle. While I had a newfound urge to protect my kids from any threat, the lack of sleep and spare brain space left me with little room to worry about anything other than feeding and tending a little one...

But now that my kids are older, able to understand what’s happening, concerned, and keen to make a difference - and that I have the luxury of more time to read and learn and understand the situation myself -  I’ve found myself becoming increasingly anxious and concerned. 

ECO-ANXIETY

When I’m looking after myself well, and not disappearing down a rabbit hole of terrifying climate change reports, I’m able to stay on top of my fears. 

But if there are other challenges going on in my life (and when aren’t there!?) - in parenting, work, financial, health - and then another extreme weather event or scene of suffering, or something reminds me of how serious the situation is, my worry about the climate crisis can add another layer of hopelessness to the existing stress - and it can make everything else feel more overwhelming.

A pile of rusty nails and barbecue debris on a beach having been collected on a beach clean

Sometimes that anxiety can cause me to ‘freeze’ or ‘flee’.  

I get lost in worries about my children's future.

I wonder how they will cope. Question whether I'm equipping them with the skills they will need, while ensuring they don't feel the weight of worries just yet.

I worry about not being here to help them manage the many challenges to come. I worry about all the other children who are suffering already. I feel powerless to make a difference, frustrated at the lack of action from those at the top.

And dwelling on those worries can keep me up at night. Those fears can make me want to hide away, pretend it’s not happening, and just go and cry under the duvet, feeling low.  Or they can make me feel stuck and hopeless, questioning what difference my tiny actions can possibly make. 

And when that fear is combined with guilt at not doing everything perfectly (realising that something I’ve bought is just adding to impossible landfill, or that I haven’t made all the possible changes there are to make yet), that self critical voice kicks in.

Triggering a thought cycle that can make it even harder for us to take action.

WHAT CAN WE DO WHEN WE FEEL ANXIOUS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS?

When I feel this way, I know there are a few things I can do that help me to move forward:

- I get in the sea, or simply spend time in nature - it can as simple as standing outside and looking up at the birds and the clouds, and letting that calm me.

- I make sure I return to my daily practice of mindfulness and self compassion - using tools like Sea Soul Blessings to reshape my thought patterns, letting myself feel the difficult feelings when they come, and offering myself some kindness instead of judgement

- I ensure that I seek out positive stories of hope (and vitally, share these with the kids too), and although I do try to stay abreast of what’s going on, I’ll limit my intake of bad news and climate research. 

- I take another small imperfect action to reduce my impact on the environment, raise awareness, and encourage others to do the same whenever I can. And remind myself that we are making a difference in small ways - this isn’t one person’s responsibility, it’s a shared responsibility. 

- I keep my expectations of myself realistic - and I do whatever I need to do to gather the energy I need to get up and at it again as soon as I can. Sometimes, that means taking a complete break and doing nothing for a bit. Focusing on parenting, working, health issues, or whatever other challenges are going on in my life. I remind myself that that’s OK.

A coffee cup full of beach clean rubbish

THE IMPORTANCE OF TAKING IMPERFECT ACTION

The environmental situation is urgent, and drastic change is needed (especially from those in positions of power).

However, for most of us, the “imperfect”  approach to taking action is especially important. 

Because as humans, it’s hard to make changes.

Even if we're terrified about the climate crisis, it's actually incredibly hard to motivate ourselves to take action to address it.

Our brains are designed to respond to immediate threats, and this is an abstract one.

If you're reading this, then like me, you're probably lucky enough not to be on the frontline of extreme weather events, experiencing drought, being forced to leave your home due to the climate crisis, or in the midst of a wildfire.

It takes effort to engage with the problem and take action, when we have other more immediate challenges on home ground. It’s hard to make choices that we believe will make life more difficult for us and those we love, alongside all the other pressures we are already facing. 

And if we decide that there is only one ‘perfect’ way of responding to the climate crisis, we’re making change even more difficult for us to achieve. 

It's natural that from our current perspective, where we are in our lives right now, the idea of changing all of our travel, food, fashion, energy and consumer habits feels completely impossible.  And while a whole new way of being in the world is likely where we'll all have to end up - at this point, right now, when we need to take action - it’s a vision that can feel too extreme, too far away from our current existence for us to ever achieve. When we see the only possible change as a drastic and painful shift from where we are now, we’re likely to trigger the part of our brain that makes us freeze again - preventing us from doing anything at all. 

So let's not do that. Let's agree that it's going to be far more useful to the planet if, instead of striving to do everything right (and then not having the energy to do anything at all), we simply engage ourselves, and as many other people we can, in making small imperfect changes, step by step - until they start to feel easier - at which point, we move on to the next.  

Because we can make a huge difference if lots of us simply keep moving forward imperfectly - towards a little bit better - each day.

Save the animals protest sign held by boy outside in nature

And of course we get to choose what that looks like for us.

It might mean making simple changes in our home life like using refillables, carrying a reusable cup or bottle, avoiding plastic packaging, eating less mass-produced meat or choosing to become vegan, buying local, organic produce where we can (and when we can afford it).  

It could be borrowing an outfit from a friend, buying second-hand fashion instead of new, or re-wearing things we already own to multiple social events (I do that anyway, because I’m so rubbish at shopping)  

It might be doing a short beach clean regularly, taking half an hour out to write to our MPs, switching our energy supplier or bank, or going on a climate strike with the kids. 

You know where you are now - you know what small imperfect change is possible for you. Don’t worry about all the other things yet. Go with that. It will actually make you feel better. 

And remember - whatever small change you're able to make, you're also showing those around us what’s possible. Without judgement about what they're doing - just showing them what you're doing - reminding them that change is possible, imperfect is fine, and it all helps.

That way, we ripple out the benefits of what we’re doing. We are more than the sum of our parts. And if enough of us can avoid freezing in panic or guilt or self criticism, and instead make another small imperfect shift each day, we can build momentum. We can show ourselves what’s possible, and go on to make the next change. 

We could change our children’s future for the better - and the lives of those children who are already, heartbreakingly, directly affected by the climate crisis in other countries -  if we all just keep taking those small steps. Forgiving ourselves when we mess up. Getting up and trying again the next day. Just like parenting - meeting the environmental crisis with a series of imperfect actions that keep us moving forward, doing our best.

Because as we all agreed in our discussion on This Morning - taking action is both a solution to eco-anxiety and the solution to overcoming the environmental challenges we face. 

You can watch the interview over here if you'd like to see it - there is a film of the interview embedded in the article. 

Are you feeling eco-anxiety? If so, how are you managing it - what tips can you share? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

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