WHAT IS ECO ANXIETY? IDENTIFY THE SYMPTOMS

What is ECO anxiety? learn all about it

Does the climate crisis make you eco anxious? Does the state of the environment depress you? Perhaps you suffer from eco-anxiety or solastalgia. 

Anger, sadness, anxiety, stress… The prospects for the climate, our planet and our civilizations can arouse a variety of negative emotions. We hear more and more about eco-anxiety and solastalgia, but what exactly is it? Is it an illness? Are we all equal in front of this phenomenon?

What is eco-anxiety?

Eco-anxiety would be “a chronic fear of environmental catastrophe”, according to the definition given by the American Psychological Association. Some present it as pre-traumatic stress because it’s an anticipatory anxiety of the uncertainty of the effects of climate change. Affected individuals live with psychological consequences related to this fear of the future, which prevent them from projecting themselves into the future in a peaceful manner.

The trigger of eco-anxiety can be different depending on the person. It can be linked to :

  • A direct stress, such as a trauma related to climate change. In Belgium, for example, this is what many people felt following the floods that took place in the summer of 2021. They have directly experienced the consequences of climate change.
  • An indirect stress. One can feel eco-anxiety when one hasn’t been affected by an event. For example, when one learns via the media or social networks about what might happen in the near future. Eco-anxiety can be triggered in various circumstances: the birth of a child, watching a movie, reading scientific reports of the IPCC, noting social and geopolitical inequalities… Or even without a unique and identified trigger.

The concept of eco-anxiety is not new, since the word, which associates ecology and anxiety, was invented in 1996 by the Belgian-Canadian physician-researcher Véronique Lapaige. It isn’t a phenomenon specific to our time, but it’s the first time that words have been put to the problem.

Although “eco-anxiety” is the term most often used, both in the media and in research on the subject, some find it too simplistic as it doesn’t represent all the facets and emotions associated with it.

Eco-anxiety: A pathology to be taken seriously?

Solastalgia can be considered today as a pathology. Generating insomnia, sadness or chronic depressive states that may require, sometimes, a psychological follow-up. 

There are psychoanalysts and psychotherapists specialized in eco-anxiety. Although they are still very rare. There are a number of young people who decide to consult for other problems than eco-anxiety. But in the end by digging into their ills, the psychotherapists discover that their malaise comes from solastalgia. It happens that some shrinks who aren’t aware of the subject misdiagnose their patients.

Eco-anxiety affects the upper and educated social classes in a significant way. They are aware of the changes they will have to make in their consumption practices. But it affects more environmental activists, young people and even children who in some cases develop obsessive-compulsive disorders. 

For example, we know people (and surely, you do too) who don’t want to have children later on because of this.

What are the symptoms of eco-anxiety?

A whole range of emotions is associated with this environmental anxiety:

  • anxiety
  • intense stress
  • sadness
  • anger
  • depression
  • feeling of helplessness
  • feeling of injustice
  • guilt
  • exhaustion
  • frustration
  • loss of meaning

These emotions don’t manifest themselves in the same way in everyone (or even all the time in the same person).

Other symptoms

Other manifestations can result from eco-anxiety: insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, muscle tension, a lump in the stomach, isolation, paralysis when faced with future choices, ruminations, a “bulimic” search for information or actions, loss of appetite, motivation or energy…

Some aspects of life can be impacted by eco-anxiety: family life, relationships with loved ones, choice of studies or work… 39% of young people would be afraid to have children in the future because of uncertainties related to climate change.

However, these feelings don’t necessarily only have negative consequences. For some people, they can also lead to action, creation, commitment… Or they can result in a professional rethink, or a change of job to get closer to one’s values!

How can we position ourselves and continue to be happy in this context?

In concrete terms, solastalgia translates into a feeling of distress, anxiety, sadness or sometimes anger. The eco-anxiety is clearly a feeling of personal awareness, one feels alone in this situation. Alone and powerless, especially when one feels that others aren’t always receptive to this subject. 

Moreover, this eco-anxiety is stimulated by successive bad news, which favors the feeling of anxiety. Thus, eco-anxiety is expected to become more and more widespread as climate change increases. So, how can we reduce this anxiety?

  1. Calming thoughts through meditation and ecopsychology
  2. Educate yourself:  More generally, to calm your thoughts, you can start by reading up on these topics.
  3. Acting on your own scale: We can also think about how to act at our scale. How to act in the way that suits us best. Nobody is perfect but there are many things we can do to act.
  4. Communicate: Talk about it. We think it’s essential to communicate and talk about environmental problems around us, to our family, friends and relatives.
  5. Join an association:There are a lot of environmental associations and the fact of being part of them, of acting at one’s own level, allows one to calm one’s mind and to be in coherence with one’s values and thoughts. 

In this way, feeling more involved would help to calm the anxiety related to the climate. We aren’t alone and powerless in front of it. And even if the subject doesn’t make us all anxious, we invite you to act and talk about it around you!

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