What Is Eco-Anxiety?

Posted on May 4, 2009 by Courtney

Let’s be honest: Being environmentally friendly can be exhausting sometimes. Keeping abreast of the serious and frankly terrifying things that are being done to our planet is enough to make anyone a little on edge. While it’s everyone’s responsibility to understand what is going on around us and do the right thing in response, doing so can sometimes remind us of the phrase “ignorance is bliss.”

Being concerned about the environment is one thing. Many people recycle and use CFL bulbs and drive fuel-efficient cars and avoid plastic whenever possible, and that’s great. But there are some who literally worry themselves sick over the environment, and those people have what is known as eco-anxiety. These people obsess over the environmental impact of everything they do, to the extent that they lay awake at night worrying about that jar they accidentally threw away instead of recycling, or what sorts of environmental catastrophes their unborn grandchildren will be dealing with.

Eco-anxiety comes with the same kinds of symptoms as regular anxiety — panic attacks, loss of appetite, weakness, nausea, sleeplessness, etc. The difference is that for the eco-anxious, these symptoms are triggered by various environmental doomsday scenarios. 

So what can you do if you believe you have eco-anxiety? For starters, you can see an eco-therapist. There are mental health professionals who specialize in helping people who stress out about our planet to an unhealthy degree. In addition to the treatments for regular anxiety, an eco-therapist may tell a patient to become more in tune with nature by carrying around something natural with them at all times, like a rock or a twig. Doing so is meant to remind the patient that we humans are part of nature, not a force at odds with it. Remembering that each of us is a small piece of a big picture helps the patient keep his or her sense of environmental responsibility in perspective.

As you can imagine, there are some people who believe eco-anxiety is ridiculous. It would be easy to write it off as the “disease du jour,” nothing more than an excuse people could use to seek attention. While that’s certainly possible, I’m inclined to take it a bit more seriously — after all, anxiety is a common and serious affliction, and there’s plenty out there to overwhelm any of us.

There are also those who say eco-anxiety is just a product of the media blowing things out of proportion in regards to global warming and other environmental issues. I’m not sure I agree with that either. Saying the media is sensationalizing an issue implies that the issue is of little actual importance, and obviously I think our planet is a serious problem. Plus, I doubt the fear of flying existed before airplanes were invented, but no one doubts aerophobia as a legitimate affliction. Why should eco-anxiety be any different?

What do you think? Do you believe there is any merit to eco-anxiety? Would any of you classify yourselves as eco-anxious? If so, what do you do about it?

No Comments +

  1. I totally believe in this. I’ve been stressing out so much over everything lately. I read on another blog how we’re not going to be able to live on this earth in 20 more years and it really freaked me out. Then I decided that I needed to calm down and just live as eco conscious as I am and just keep doing the good things I’m doing. There’s not much more I can do than that. ;)

    May 4th, 2009 at 7:23 am
    Comment by Mrs. Money
  2. Wow! I’m so glad you wrote about this. I think moderation and making sure to keep your concerns in check is key. I worry that the kind of obsession you’re talking about could also lead to burn out. Moderation isn’t a sexy word, but it is a good one to live by.

    May 4th, 2009 at 9:26 am
    Comment by Allie
  3. Anxiety is fun (As someone who’s suffered from both anxiety and depression, it sucks.) But I don’t think you have to go to a special eco-therapist for it–most psychiatrists do a fine and dandy job dealing with mental health issues. Yes, you might be prescribed (horror of horrors) an antidepressant (which is the standard of care for anxiety). But it sure beats letting your brain ruin your life.

    May 4th, 2009 at 10:39 am
    Comment by Jules
  4. Eco-anxiety is not ridiculous… I remember feeling eco-anxiety on top of my “regular” anxiety as a child (circa Earth Day 1990). And while I live in a “green-er” city, I feel guilty because I just bought a new compact, somewhat fuel efficient car after not owning one for a year. The guilt has led to “anxious feelings” as I obsesses over new ways that I can help the environment (on top of what I already do) to balance out my carbon footprint. Le sigh. Pass the organic wine!

    May 4th, 2009 at 12:34 pm
    Comment by kir
  5. I def have a bit of eco-anxiety, specifically relating to my hair care. I just can’t bring myself to use shampoos and conditioners but lately nothing else has been working for me and my hair is starting to show it. I need to change something that is for sure but I don’t know what to do.

    May 4th, 2009 at 12:59 pm
    Comment by mudnessa
  6. I’m so glad you wrote about this. I have experienced it from time to time. Things can seem overwhelming. I think it’s related to Activist Burn-Out. Maybe the key is just to keep things in perspective, know that you can only control your own actions, and in doing so, hopefully be a good example for others.

    May 4th, 2009 at 1:12 pm
    Comment by tmc
  7. I think this definitely exists. I get a little eco-anxious when I see how wasteful people in my lives are and when I see all the garbage lining the streets of Baltimore.

    Then the eco-guilt sets in. Am I doing enough to save the world?

    May 4th, 2009 at 1:58 pm
    Comment by Charm City Kim
  8. I’m sure this is real, but then I think people who tend to have anxieties will have them regardless and just need something to project them onto. The eco-anxious are just focused.

    I’m merely eco-concerned.

    May 7th, 2009 at 6:03 pm
    Comment by mickey
  9. [...] Being environmentally friendly can be exhausting sometimes. Keeping abreast of the serious and frankly terrifying things that are being done to our planet is enough to make anyone a little on edge. While it’s everyone’s responsibility to understand what is going on around us and do the right thing in response, doing so can sometimes remind us of the phrase “ignorance is bliss.” [...]

    May 8th, 2009 at 10:01 am
    Pingback by Quick Green Reads For The Weekend Volume 116. | The Good Human

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So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.


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