Eco-anxiety is a term that has emerged in recent years to describe an increasingly widespread psychological phenomenon. In the face of the climate emergency and environmental degradation, many people experience deep emotional distress, known as eco-anxiety. This form of environmental anxiety reflects growing concerns about the consequences of climate change and the ecological crisis. In this article, we will explore the origins of eco-anxiety, its manifestations, and its implications for society.
Eco-anxiety is fueled by a combination of factors. On the one hand, scientific evidence regarding climate change and its devastating effects is growing, prompting growing awareness of the scale of the crisis. Indeed, many people begin to panic because they feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and realize that they are one person among billions. The result is a feeling of great helplessness which feeds and amplifies this feeling of eco-anxiety. Psychology Today speaks of "a fairly recent psychological disorder affecting a growing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis"
Anxiety disorders vary in severity and, according to Anxiety UK, more than 1 in 10 UK adults are likely to suffer from a 'disabling anxiety disorder' in their lifetime.
No statistics are available on the prevalence of eco-anxiety, but some experts have noted an increase in public anxiety about climate change. Susan Clayton, professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster, Ohio, co-authored a 2017 report titled Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance . “We can say that a significant proportion of people are experiencing stress and worry about the potential impacts of climate change, and that the level of worry is almost certainly increasing,” she said. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - the guide used by mental health professionals to make diagnoses in the United States - does not yet include "eco-anxiety" as a specific condition, but the American Psychological Association produced a 2017 report detailing the impacts of climate change on mental health which referred to the term “eco-anxiety” . The Glossary describes it as "a chronic fear of environmental catastrophe."
How does eco-anxiety manifest itself?
Eco-anxiety manifests itself in different ways and can vary in intensity from person to person. Some people experience widespread anxiety, constantly concerned about the state of the planet and the future of humanity. Others may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, trouble sleeping, appetite disturbances, or panic attacks. Eco-anxiety can also lead to emotional distress, deep sadness, feelings of helplessness or guilt over the inability to make a real difference.
What are the implications for society?
Eco-anxiety has significant social and cultural implications. It can lead to withdrawal from society, diminished civic and political engagement, and loss of trust in institutions that appear inactive in the face of the climate crisis. Additionally, eco-anxiety can affect personal relationships, especially when there are differing perspectives on the severity of the environmental situation. It is therefore essential to recognize and take into account eco-anxiety to support individuals and foster constructive discussions.
How is it possible to manage eco-anxiety?
To deal with eco-anxiety, there are coping strategies that can help individuals find emotional balance. First, it is essential to maintain open communication and share concerns with other people. Joining communities committed to environmental protection can also provide mutual support. Self-care practices, such as meditation, yoga, or outdoor activities, can help reduce stress and restore a sense of connection with nature. Finally, it is important to adopt concrete actions, even modest ones, to contribute to the preservation of the environment, as this can give a feeling of personal effectiveness.
Eco-anxiety reflects the deep concern about the state of our planet and the urgency to act to preserve our environment. Recognizing and addressing eco-anxiety is key to supporting individuals dealing with this emotional distress. By adopting stewardship strategies and encouraging active engagement, we can help ease concerns and cultivate a sense of hope and positive action in the face of the climate crisis.