Eco Anxiety is real. Following months of youth protests across Europe and student sit-ins outside of government institutions, psychologists are warning parents of the distressing effect climate change is having on their children, and the very real effects of the fear surrounding environmental doom.
As sixteen-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg put it in her speech before the U.S. congress: “Business leaders, elected officials all across the political spectrum [are] spending their time making up and telling bedtime stories that soothe us, that make us go back to sleep. These are “feel-good” stories about how we are going to fix everything. How wonderful everything is going to be when we have “solved” everything. But the problem we are facing is not that we lack the ability to dream, or to imagine a better world. The problem now is that we need to wake up. It’s time to face the reality, the facts, the science.”
Asking the U.S. government to recognise the climate crisis for what it is, a true existential emergency, Ms Thunberg highlighted the very essence of the psychological impact that the rising climate is having on the population, and the implicit impact it's having on our sense of self.
This existential dread that comes with recognising the severity of the climate crisis is coming to be known as ‘eco-anxiety’. It has been described by Psychology Today as “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis”. Eco-anxiety is the not-so settling feeling you get when you accidentally throw out your rubbish in the wrong bin, and find yourself lying awake at night wondering whether the single-use plastics you purchased earlier that day will end up in the ocean, or in your food the next day. It is the chronic fear of the rising destruction caused by climate change - and the feeling of powerlessness that comes with it.
As the media headlines detail the horrific effects of extreme-weather events and climate-related displacements of people, anxiety is on the rise for those who feel the weight of the seemingly insurmountable challenge before us.
But there are reasons to be optimistic in the face of it all. If you find yourself worrying about the future generations and the role you can play in mitigating climate change, remind yourself of the incredible power of the collective. Take Greta’s advice: unite behind the science, take action, and do the impossible, because giving up can never be an option. Inform yourself about the exciting innovative solutions for sustainable living being promoted world-wide, and the companies and organisations rising to the challenge.