As fears of climate change loom large, eco-anxiety takes over

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on November 25, 2019

Eco-anxiety is defined as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” by the American Psychological Association.

With the top 15 of the world’s most populated cities compiled by the Air Visual World Air Quality Report 2018 citing 12 Indian cities, and with people in our capital city grappling to breathe, eco-anxiety seems to be a ramification on the mental health front that we will have to endure.

An article in The Hindu describes eco-anxiety as the feeling of being overwhelmed by the challenges of climate change and the fear of the state of the environment.

“It is the helplessness that makes us see ourselves as just one insignificant entity on the planet, unable to reverse the crisis. It is also the sense that no matter how hard we work, nothing will ever be enough. You know the deteriorating climate is affecting your health or your child’s but you do not know how you can stop it. To feel powerless against a supposedly impending doom shoots up stress levels and causes anxiety, say medicos,” the article said.

What the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said — that she did not want the adults to be hopeful but panic — finds resonance with what experts say, The Hindu article said. “Adults are indeed panicking because they are unable to now comprehend the right measure of response to the scale of the challenge,” it further stated.

Eco-anxiety is not the same as a clinical anxiety disorder, though physicians say fears about the climate can worsen or trigger pre-existing mental health problems, according to a Time article.

In 2019, as climate protests became prevalent and a maelstrom of climate change related natural disasters wreaked havoc across the globe, eco-anxiety exploded across the Western world. “Mental health studies from Greenland to Australia reveal a surge in people reporting stress or depression about the climate,” the article said. 

When it comes to treatment, experts say taking action—either by changing your lifestyle to reduce emissions or getting involved in activism—can reduce anxiety levels by restoring a sense of agency and connection with a community, the Time article said.

Caroline Hickman, a psychotherapist and CPA member, is also quoted in the article saying that collective action is a good treatment for a collective problem.

Before taking to the streets, though, there’s some more conventional therapy to be done, the article said. “First, you need to talk about your feelings,” Hickman said, advising that we give ourselves time to accept hard facts like our vulnerability to climate change and our failure to prioritize climate action. “It doesn’t have to be a therapy group, but I wouldn’t advise doing it all alone. Because this is pretty scary stuff,” she is quoted in the article.

Published on November 25, 2019

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