• Art & Science Research Group

THE ECO ANXIETY—By Ariadna Rodriguez

The American Psychological Association (APA) first defined eco-anxiety in 2017 as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” During the lasts years, climate protests and natural disasters have pushed climate up the news agenda and the term eco-anxiety has become very popular across the Western world.

What do the ecological symptoms tell us about the state of our own minds and souls?

Eco-psychologists look at the dialogue between nature’s way of thinking and humanity’s ways of thinking.

Climate change is affecting out psychological wellbeing. Recently, attention has turned to the possible effects of climate change on mental health through emotional responses such as increased anxiety.

However, there is increasing attention to the possibility of a more indirect effect: anxiety associated with perceptions about climate change, even among people who have not personally experienced any direct impacts.

This anxiety response is important to understand in part because of the range of potential sufferers: anyone who knows about climate change–in other words, given the reach of communications technology, almost everyone–could be affected by climate anxiety regardless of their own personal vulnerability or relative safety.

The feeling of uncertainty and lack of understanding is one of the central aspects of climate change, given that no one can predict the exact impacts in a particular place and time, and scientists who model possible futures have emphasized the possibility of unknown feedback loops or tipping points, and most of the time, apocalyptic scenarios.

There are many ways of thinking about the emotional response to the perception of environmental degradation. Some of the best-known work was prompted by the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht, who created the term “Solastalgia” to describe the pain or sickness caused by the loss of solace from one’s homeland. Solastalgia exist when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under assault.

Climate anxiety is not surprisingly, it is more common among those who care more about environmental issues or who have experienced some impacts of climate change. In addition, climate anxiety appears to be particularly prevalent among younger adults, according to (APA) the American Psychological Association.

What can we do about climate anxiety?

We can identify two potential goals: individual wellbeing, and engagement in efforts to mitigate climate change in an attempt to promote societal wellbeing, in other words: act now.

One focal point in this discussion has been the young climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has openly spoken of her climate change anxiety.

Before taking to the streets, though, there’s some more conventional therapy to be done. When it comes to treatment, experts say taking action—either by changing your lifestyle to reduce emissions or getting involved in activism—can reduce anxiety levels by restoring a sense of agency and connection with a community. Collective action, is a good treatment for a collective problem.

First, you need to talk about your feelings and give to yourself time to accept hard facts like our vulnerability to climate change and our failure to prioritize climate action.

Active engagement may have positive effects on the mental health of those who are involved. Engaging with climate change activism could be described not just as a form of coping but of adaptation, adjusting to a new way of life.

However, engagement and activism may not be effective for those who are most affected by climate anxiety and engage in excessive rumination about their worry and negative emotions. Sometimes it helps to gain some distance from the topic, for example by reducing the attention to the media, focusing on more immediate issues, and finding alternative sources of activity and meaning.

There are evidently numerous ways in which eco-anxiety is linked with many emotions, but the climate symptoms are forcing us to re-spect, to re-look into the human values and our way of being in the world.


Ariadna Rodriguez is working on her Master’s Degree in Visual Communication, Academy of Art & Design, Bergen

Image: 'Mi casa, tu casa', photography and art direction, 2020

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