Hello friends, welcome here.
One of my amazing grad students runs a blog and posted something yesterday that I think is worth a conversation. Although she did not use these words, her post, “The Weight of the World” makes me think of “Green Fatigue” or “Eco Anxiety” – two terms to sum up a very real, overwhelming feeling in sustainability work.
So, what is “Green Fatigue” or “Eco Anxiety”?
Good question. Essentially, “a chronic fear of environmental doom (Fawbert 2019).” According to the American Psychological Association, symptoms of Eco Anxiety include: trauma and shock, PTSD, compounded stress, strains on social relationships, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, aggression and violence, loss of autonomy, loss of identity, and feelings of helplessness and fear. That’s a lot.
Think about it: Every day there are new reports, new articles outlining just how deep we are truly in this mess. Headlines declaring we have a limited window of time before irrevocable damage is done to the earth, millennials not wanting to have children in fear of the impending climate crisis, your individual actions don’t matter, so what does?
Environmentalists are confronted with the science they know daily in headlines trying to jar the public into action with doomsday tactics. They are skipping plastic and going out of their way to reduce their emissions. They share their knowledge with the world around them – and still, when they go to recycle their Starbucks cup they look in the bin to see staws, fast food containers, and straight up trash. They roll their eyes, do their best to mitigate the cross contamination and continue on their day frustrated, wondering, “How can we get people to recycle properly?”
While this may not sound like a lot, imagine this small frustration brewing day-by-day. Eventually, it becomes a big thing. It can become easy to feel like “I am the only one who cares.” “This is never going to get better.” “Why even try??” and that is the Eco Anxiety creeping in.
Environmentalists are not the only activists who experience this kind of anxiety or fatigue. Every form of activism you can imagine has an associated fatigue or anxiety. A quick Google search will get you “White Fatigue” “Activism Fatigue” “Burnout” “Racial Justice Fatigue” and a whole slew of other terms if you keep digging. Activism has been around for a while, but I would say the concept of supporting activists and their mental health and wellbeing is new in comparison.
So, what can you do to fight Eco Anxiety?
Like most things, I think this answer depends. In my short time as a sustainability professional, I have seen many students and myself battle with Eco Anxiety at times. Here are some practical suggestions:
Put a name to how you are feeling.
Claiming you have Eco Anxiety may feel like a bit of a leap. You may not even believe in it. At times I don’t – but having a name to describe how you are feeling is powerful. Feeling Eco Anxiety is real. Being able to describe what you are feeling as “Eco Anxiety” can get you connected to a community of others who feel the same or resources.
The people in your life want to love and support you, sometimes that can be hard if no one knows you are struggling. Tell someone how you are feeling, especially if they work in sustainability too – chances are they will be able to relate and share what worked for them. Of course, there is always the option of counseling if you have access to it. There are a growing number of online resources and hotlines you can youse in a moment of need.
Have a sustainability philosophy.
This might sound basic, but have a sustainability philosophy. Develop an understanding of sustainability that makes sense to you and your life and values. When things get tough, revisit that philosophy. For me that means doing what I can, where I am, with what I have because that is all anyone can do, and that is more than enough.
Continue modeling the way.
Yeah, recycling is a broken, band-aid solution to over consumption and consumerism, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recycle anyway. Maybe your individual actions don’t matter, but maybe they do… for what it’s worth, I think they do. You modeling the way and living a life that is congruent with your values may be the thing that models the way for someone who grew up in a home without recycling to learn how to recycle.
Keep doing all the little things you do.
On one hand this might be a lot, but on the other you doing all the small things you do gives you back some power in the midst of feeling desperation. Keep bringing your reusable bags and bottles with you where you go, keep riding your bike past all the people commuting to work by themselves in their car, keep eating vegan, keep doing all the things that make you feel like you are making a difference. If they no longer serve you, don’t.
Take a break.
It is A-OK to step away for a day, a week, a month, however long it takes you to feel ok. Get off social media, go to your favorite coffee shop, avoid recycling bins like the plague. Do what you have to do to be your best self. I promise, the work will still be here when you get back and you will be better for it.
Read Something Uplifting.
In the midst of all the doomsday climate news, take some time to consume media that is uplifting. Listen to a cool new podcast (my new fave is Overheard at National Geographic), find a YouTuber with the good recipes, pick up an old fashioned book, give your brain space to enjoy media instead of dreading it.
In work where you give so much of yourself to others or a greater cause, remember yourself. Make sure you are doing the things that bring you joy. Run, walk your dog, eat good food, get coffee with friends (often), watch the sunset, and for goodness sake stay hydrated and get as much sleep as you can.
Your work doesn’t need to be your identity.
You will probably always be the “Sustainability Person” to the people in your life. That is ok! That does not mean every facet of your being needs to be about sustainability. It is so easy in a world that obsesses about Instagram and branding to feel as though sustainability is your one and only, but as I say, sustainability doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Sustainability when functioning ideally would include everything, so be whoever you want to be.
Practice Work – Life Balance.
One of my professors from grad school told my class, “Drinks after work is still work.” After a year and some change at my current gig (which I love): can confirm. And if sustainability is your day job, don’t make it your night job too. See how you can get involved in local sustainability organizations through your work, don’t have you’re email set up on your phone, set up boundaries that work and make sense for you.
Enjoy this beautiful world.
At the end of the day, no matter how tired or frustrated I am, taking time to hike one of my favorite Tallahassee trails (like Lafayette Heritage Trail Park) always leaves me full and refreshed. When I am walking under live oaks hundreds of years old, it is easy to feel small and as though the weight of the world is not, in fact, on my shoulders.
What are your thoughts on Eco Anxiety? What has helped you move through tough times as an environmentalist or human? Let me know in the comments below.
Love, love, love ❤ Cyndel