“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde
Thinking about climate change and its effect on our world can be overwhelming. There are rising sea levels leading to beach erosion, extreme weather events displacing more vulnerable communities around the world, increased wildfires, hotter temperatures, increased droughts, and so much more. I panic when I think of the apocalyptic world that is starting to unfold.
I often get caught in cycles of critically analyzing every decision I make—how much water I use, how much waste I create, and how much CO2 I emit into the atmosphere while I drive to the grocery store. When buying food, I ask questions like: Is this actually organic? What was the carbon footprint of making this product and shipping it to Hawai’i? Did the factory treat its workers ethically? When my friends said they wanted to go on a trip to Seattle this year, I could only think about the amount of carbon emissions from the flight and other wastes that are often difficult to avoid when traveling. How am I supposed to enjoy a vacation when the climate crisis is getting worse? How do I go about my daily tasks when millions of people are becoming displaced each year, when more animals and their habitats are becoming endangered, and when there are humanitarian and environmental justice crises happening right now around the world?
I worry about the state of the environment and how much more climate change events will impact the Earth. At times, I am also subject to climate doomism, feeling lost, hopeless, and helpless about the state of the world. I feel confused and overwhelmed as I try to figure out my own future—my career, who I want to be, and how I can contribute in efforts towards making a just, equitable, and healthy future for the planet and its people.
This feeling is what Queer Brown Vegan’s Climate Emotion Scale defines as eco-anxiety, a type of anxiety where one is concerned about the future state of our Earth and fear of potential natural disasters that may occur as the climate crisis intensifies. Some people also experience eco-guilt from the privilege of not being directly or severely affected by climate change. Instead of centering their focus on systems creating and perpetuating these inequities, people focus on their individual faults in contributing to climate change.
8 ways I try to cope with feelings of eco-anxiety
Feelings of eco-anxiety are valid. I learned that making time to care for myself is important in my journey to address the climate crisis. Here are eight ways I cope with eco-anxiety.
Volunteering with local environmental groups and taking action
At home on O’ahu, I have participated in different volunteer opportunities with local environmental organizations, from planting native trees to removing invasive species. The concept of mālama i ka ‘āina (to care for and respect the land) is a strongly rooted practice in Hawaiian culture and inevitably leads you to recognize the interconnectedness of our health and the Earth’s health.
I love volunteering at Ho’oulu ‘Āina, a nature preserve in Kalihi Valley, and assisting with different tasks. One of my favorite tasks has been harvesting plants for food and medicine, specifically ‘olena (turmeric), cassava, and kalo (taro, pictured below).
I also volunteer to help my local Sierra Club’s podcast, Root Cause Remedies, with their social media. In each episode, we highlight the work of local organizers, conservationists, educators, and leaders in the community who are advocates for environmental and social justice!
Working for impactful organizations like Turning Green has allowed me to help empower others to take action in the fight against climate change. By volunteering, I feel connected to making change and less overwhelmed.
I have the privilege of living in a beautiful place and having access to the mountains and oceans where I can hike, surf, and enjoy nature. When I go outside I feel rejuvenated. Those bountiful mountains and the cool salt water bring me endless joy.
You don’t have to go into the mountains or the ocean to feel refreshed and get the feel-good benefits of being outside. For me, something as simple as pulling weeds or tending to my family’s garden is therapeutic.
Yoga and meditation
About two years ago, I started doing sculpt yoga, a combination of strength training, yoga elements, and poses. Sculpt yoga helps me regulate my energy and feel physically and mentally at peace and grounded. I also appreciate yoga instructors that emphasize gratitude as it helps me remember what I’m grateful for in life.
A bite of gooey chocolate chip cookie can really make a difference in relieving stress. I have found that baking brownies, cookies, and bread is a source of uplifting my mood when I’m feeling down or anxious. Anything with dark chocolate will result in an instantaneous release of endorphins for me! Baking also gives me joy because sharing desserts with my family and friends uplifts their moods as well.
Spending time with friends and family
Remember: you are not alone! When I am feeling overwhelmed I turn to my loved ones and support system to help me feel at ease. Talking with loved ones helps me remember that we’re all in this together, and that many of us feel the same way about our collective climate crisis. They have helped me find ways to cope with climate anxiety and stress as well. Who is someone you can reach out to?
It can feel overwhelming when there is work, school, home, and social life to balance. I learned that knowing my boundaries at work in order to have time to give to others is extremely important. It is okay to say ‘no’ and set aside space and time for yourself! For example, stick to your scheduled working hours and mute your email notifications when you’re not working.
Talking to a therapist
I am also grateful to have the privilege and access to go to therapy. Talking to a professional has helped me to understand and accept my feelings. I can now look at my feelings from a different perspective and navigate how to react in situations in which I became very anxious or depressed about the climate and our future.
Resources to consider
Those were only some of the ways I cope with mental health struggles regarding the climate crisis. Here are a few resources I’ve appreciated that may help you, too.
- Queer Brown Vegan’s Climate Emotion Scale – Isaias Hernandez explains eight Earth emotions from being at peace and feeling joy with the environment (Eutierra) to feeling angry at the systems that have fueled the climate crisis (Eco-rage).
- Circularity Community – This is a resource hub to address eco-anxiety and guide you in environmental advocacy.
- The Joy Report – This is a podcast that highlights the positive news in regards to climate change and environmental justice movement. This is a good resource in providing hope for those subject to eco-anxiety and/or climate doomism.
- TIME Magazine’s 7 Resources to Help You Cope with Climate Anxiety – This includes a directory to help you locate climate-aware therapists in areas near you and also different networks and spaces to connect with others who are feeling similar about climate change and the future.
- Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – This is not exactly a resource for addressing mental health but is one of my favorite books. It is an amazingly insightful and hopeful story about a young woman navigating an apocalyptic world and her journey in creating a better, resilient future.
The bottom line is that we must take care of ourselves first in order to take care of the Earth. In the end, we are all interconnected—we heal ourselves by healing the Earth and vice versa.