Everything you need to know about ecoanxiety and what to do to feel better

Emma-Louise Pritchard
·5-min read
Photo credit: Issy Muir
Photo credit: Issy Muir

From Country Living

Eco anxiety is a relatively new term to pop up in wellness reports, pop culture articles and day-to-day conversations. Put simply, it's anxiety caused by an increasing concern for our planet and environment.

We are in the midst of a cultural shift which has opened our eyes to environmental issues including single-use plastics, the over-consumption of meat and extreme weather conditions caused by global warming. The headlines are overwhelming and can sometimes leave us feeling anxious. For some, this anxiety can become severe and manifest as eco anxiety.

Although it is good that, as a society, we are increasingly aware of how our actions affect the planet, for some, the pressure to live a more eco-friendly life and the fear of what will happen if we don't can become overwhelming.

We spoke to Anxiety UK to get some tips on how to deal with eco anxiety.

What is eco anxiety?

In the case of eco anxiety, the topic of the environment, climate change and the planet is a trigger for feelings of anxiety, panic and worry. These feelings can become unmanageable, overwhelming and can lead to avoidance strategies, like not watching the news in fear of a scary headline coming on.

"It is essentially anxiety that is focused on the potential damage we are having on our planet as a result of not being ecologically friendly and the potential consequences of this," Anxiety UK's Nicky Lidbetter explains to Country Living.

Over 70% of 18 to 24-year-olds are experiencing eco anxiety on a regular basis, a national YouGov poll, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, has found.

What are the signs and symptoms of eco anxiety?

The signs and symptoms of eco anxiety are the same as those brought on by any other anxiety condition. The trigger may be different but the physical and mental feelings are the same. Other common anxiety conditions include health anxiety, social anxiety and hypochondria.

Nicky confirms this, saying: "Signs of eco anxiety can be very similar to symptoms of other anxiety conditions, including excessive worrying, a racing heartbeat, trouble sleeping and over thinking/catastrophising."

Mental symptoms of eco anxiety:

  • excessive worrying

  • trouble switching off/relaxing/sleeping

  • over thinking/catastrophising

  • feeling scared

  • muddled/fuzzy thinking

Physical symptoms of eco anxiety:

  • tingling limbs

  • a change in temperature/sweating

  • increased heart rate

  • chest pain

  • tiredness

  • needing the toilet more often

  • shivering

Read our full list of the physical symptoms caused by anxiety.

Who is likely to suffer from eco anxiety?

Nicky explains that eco anxiety is not likely to occur as a mental health condition by itself – it is more likely to be an extension of an existing anxiety or panic disorder. She suggests that someone already prone to anxiety is more likely to experience eco anxiety.

"Ecoanxiety is unlikely to be present at a level whereby it constitutes a distinct and separate anxiety condition," says Nicky. "And instead is more likely to be part of another anxiety condition, typically that of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)."

That being said, it is still possible for someone's first experience of anxiety and panic to be triggered by the environment.

How can you treat eco anxiety?

Nicky is keen to point out that "treating any form of anxiety is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and unfortunately, eco anxiety is no different in this regard." But there are treatments to consider...

"A type of talking therapy treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, CBT, is particularly helpful and is available alongside counselling and clinical hypnotherapy through Anxiety UK," recommends Nicky.

"CBT can be helpful as an approach as it allows us to look at negative thought patterns with a view to challenging and replacing them with more healthy and logical thoughts and beliefs. This can be beneficial for someone experiencing eco anxiety, as there may be an element of catastrophic thinking evident and which responds very well to CBT."

There are a number of other options for those seeking support for eco anxiety or anxiety of any kind:

Talk to a GP – Make an appointment with your GP and talk to them about how you are feeling. They will be able to refer you to counseling, offer advice on home remedies or prescribe medication.

Talk to a friend or family member – Talking about how you feel can be a simple but very effective way to ease pressure. Choose someone you feel comfortable opening up to and who you think will be a good listener and able to try and understand.

Go to a charity – There are a number of charities offering vital support services for people suffering from anxiety. Anxiety UK, Mind and Rethink are just a few.

Use an app – There are a number of apps which offer free and paid-for guided meditations. Buddhify, Calm and Headspace are just a few to try.

Read a book – We can recommend A Guide to Eco-Anxiety: How to Protect the Planet and Your Mental Health BUY NOW

Will living a more eco-friendly lifestyle help ease eco anxiety?

First and foremost, it is important to understand that anxiety surrounding the environment should be treated as a separate mental health issue, as mentioned above. This is because, although planetary issues can definitely spark a natural level of worry, a more intense anxiety needs to be managed regardless of its trigger.

That being said, it is of course a good idea to try and lead a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, as long as we understand three things:

  1. We can only change what's within our capability, in terms of money, location, job, family demands etc.

  2. It's not easy to change habits and routines and we should not beat ourselves up about it or feel guilty. That fact that we want to make a change is worth celebrating in itself.

  3. Small changes are just as important as grand statements. For advice on how to be more eco-conscious, read our tips.

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