Mental Health Awareness Week: MAGIC Steps for Coping with Eco-Anxiety
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, with the theme of Nature. So we thought this would be a great opportunity to share some ways we (Caroline and Jane) deal with our feelings of “eco-anxiety”. We are not psychologists, but from our personal experience taking action, when faced with feelings of anxiety, despair or hopelessness about climate change, has a positive impact on our mental health.
Although not recognised as a clinical condition,eco-anxiety is a term that’s become widely used in the last few years to describe feelings of distress in response to the threats posed by climate change and can be described as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. Psychologists actually recognise eco-anxiety as a healthy, rational reaction to the ecological dangers we are facing (including extreme weather, crop failures, water shortages, mass extinction, social unrest etc). Feelings of panic, fear and anxiety are a healthier response than denial, provided we use these feelings to mobilise us into action (as opposed to becoming paralysed by overwhelm and helplessness).
According to the Mental Health Foundation, a greater connection with the natural world has extraordinary health benefits for our mental wellbeing. Being in nature and interacting with it can help protect our psychological and emotional health. This is certainly something we’ve found to be true from our personal experience. And as a result, a lot of our “mental healthy eco-actions” involve nature in some way.
Our tips below are based around this 5 MAGIC Steps to Wellbeing Animation:
1. Be Mindful
Our minds are always wandering and worrying about the past or the future. Being mindful is about being in the present moment. Even just taking a few minutes a day to practice mindfulness can have an amazingly calming effect. We recommend deliberately taking time out each day to pause to look at, listen to, smell and feel nature (such as birdsong, rain, flowers, wind, clouds, leaves). You can do this more or less anywhere; in your own garden, walking to the shops, in a park, or on a longer hike in the countryside. In her book A Guide To Eco-Anxiety, Anouchka Grosse recommends feeding the birds: “Seeing birds close-up is a daily reminder of the beauty, fragility and cheekiness of nature.…I can absolute testify to the idea that birds make people feel better.”
2. Be Active
Getting outside and exercising in nature really boosts our mood. This may be anything from a spot of gardening, a gentle stroll in the local park, a hike, run or cycle ride in the countryside. Even getting outside for a quick walk for a few minutes in your lunch break can help clear your head and focus your mind. Even in winter when it’s dark in the evenings and it’s cold, wet or windy, exercising outside always makes us feel better.
3. Be Generous
Kindness is key and by being generous to others, we can also benefit our own mental health. Volunteering in our local community is something we do to help others and protect nature. These actions have the added bonus of making us feel good too! Things we do to improve our local environment include litter-picking and hedge planting. Setting up this blog is another way of trying to give back and trying to help others live more sustainably!
4. Be Interested
Being interested in a new hobby or skill can help focus your mind on something other than your worries. We’re always trying to learn new skills that have a positive environmental impact. We’ve taught ourselves to darn socks and patch up holes in jeans to prolong the life of our clothes. We experiment with weird and wonderful new recipes to avoid food waste. And as keen gardeners, we try to incorporate new techniques, such as building dead hedges out of woody waste, to create habitats for wildlife or tackling pests in an eco-friendly way.
5. Be Connected
Being connected to other people can help you stay positive. Chatting to likeminded friends or family members is a good way to remind yourself you are not alone, and that everyone has their own troubles. Meeting up in person for a walk and a chat is lovely, but even just a phone call, email or text can help you stay connected to your “tribe”. We’ve found joining local environmental groups (such as hedge and tree planting groups and Extinction Rebellion) is a great way to take positive action to alleviate feelings of eco-anxiety. We also carefully choose which groups to follow on social media, so that we can connect with other people with similar interests and concerns, such as the Sustainable(ish) Facebook Group.
By remembering these 5 MAGIC steps and finding an action in each category that works for you, you can help increase your resilience and protect your mental wellbeing. Although the treatment for eco-anxiety has to be on a systemic level (ie. global action to reduce CO2 emissions), we can take individual actions to help us move forward in an empowered, mentally healthy way.
As Greta Thunberg says “We can sit and do nothing and that may feel very hopeless, but as soon as we start taking action, there is hope.”