If you’re feeling powerless or overwhelmed, it can be tempting to switch off the news and try to ignore the reports, but it’s important to confront the issue of climate change directly and stay informed. Getting involved and understanding the facts can help you make a plan for how to cope and reduce feelings of stress.
First and foremost remember: Don’t panic. Whilst you need to be aware of the facts, panicking doesn’t help. When we go into a state of fear we activate our adrenal system. The adrenal system then sends stress hormones circulating through our body to prepare it for the ‘fight or flight’ response. It gathers up all the excess stress hormones in the body and sends them to the arms and legs so that they can be used to run away. When the energy all goes into the fight or flight response it shuts down the energy of functions that are not necessary in the adrenal response. The conscious mind is slow and needs time to think. Nature controls this by shutting down the function of consciousness while simultaneously stimulating reactive reflex behaviour – non-thinking behaviour. So, when we hear news about extreme weather conditions happening now and we panic it makes us become isolated from each other (breaking down any community spirit). It makes us feel powerless. Taking action helps us feel more positive.
Choose five of these 21 actions that you can take to bring back balance, both in your own life and in your natural environment.
- Change your diet. The impact of animal agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions goes a lot further than just cows producing methane gas. Meat production requires vast amounts of energy. Not only do you have to grow the crops to feed the animals, but fossil fuels are also burnt in the raising, slaughtering, and transportation of animals. In fact, livestock and their by-products account for 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. So if you choose to eat meat, your greenhouse emissions can be twice that of someone on a plant-based diet. Alongside this, we need to remember that livestock consumes much more protein, water, and calories than they produce, as most of the energy taken in by animals is used for their bodily functions and not converted to meat, eggs or milk. In fact, as Cornell University found, producing one calorie of food energy from beef requires 40 calories of fossil fuel energy, whilst producing one calorie of human-edible grain takes only 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy.
- Buy local. Bearing in mind that the food industry generates nearly twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as all transportation combined – cars, buses, trains, planes, buy locally grown, seasonal food whenever you can. For other items let companies/businesses know that you want to know the amount of CO2 their product generates from farm to store so that you know how they impact the planet before you decide to buy from them. Campaign for the entire food industry to have to label their products with the climate footprint of all their products.
- Get involved in activism. This doesn’t have to mean a big organised event. It could be something as simple as walking into local shops/businesses and asking them about vegan/cruelty-free options. If you can do it with a group of friends the more the merrier! If enough people keep doing this it will raise the awareness in the business that there is a demand for the products.
- Recycle everything you can (or don’t use it in the first place). Ask your local council what their policy is on recycling and what percentage of the things they collect are recycled. Share your findings with your local paper and on social media.
- Form a community group and meet up to do litter-picks, have discussions, and raise awareness in local communities and businesses. Social connections can strengthen our resilience so finding a supportive community of like-minded people can help ease your eco-anxiety. For everyone, strengthening social connections can be a powerful source of resilience. Look at Meetup.com and Facebook groups for connecting with people.
- Make conscious decisions. With everything you buy think about where it came from, how many people/animals were involved in its production, its carbon footprint, and whether it is cruelty-free.
- Support eco-friendly businesses. If someone opens a vegan café, sells cruelty-free eco-friendly products, and/or locally grown food support them in any way you can. Buy from them, donate to their cause, tell other people about what they are doing. Share their posts on social media.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs (medications) whenever possible. Alcohol and anti-depressants make you function at a lower level of consciousness. Obviously take your doctor’s advice but consider first whether healthy eating and exercise will give you better results.
- Exercise outdoors. Keeping yourself fit and active helps keep your mind clear and focused. It improves your memory, helps you recuperate and even makes your sense of smell more acute. So turn off your computer and get outside. Spending more time outdoors nurtures our ‘nature neurons’ and our natural creativity. Also, after just an hour interacting with nature, researchers have proven that memory performance and attention spans improve by about 20%.
- Sleep well. Many people report that feeling anxious about the environment makes them lose sleep. If you’re lying in bed and can’t drop off, meditate. Imagine the ideal version of you – healthy, exercising, eating healthy food, and actively doing things for the environment. Imagine going to visit the ideal future you and what he/she advises you about what you should be doing. Read through the list of things in this article before you go to bed to plant the seeds in your unconscious.
- Write morning pages. When you wake up in the morning write three pages (A4) about whatever pops into your head. It doesn’t have to be good or even insightful just write and keep writing. I usually find that by the third page I start to get some good ideas. If you do it every day – as soon as you get up – you will start to notice similarities in your intentions, and these will give you some insight into what your purpose is in life.
- Be creative. Creative people come up with new ideas and can engage other people more easily. Researchers have found that regardless of culture people gravitate to images of nature so share pictures of action you are taking and link them to the natural world. Aim to be a role model and engage others so that they follow your example.
- Remember that everything happens for a reason. For centuries we have been destroying the earth – our natural habitat. Our health has suffered as well as the environment and we need to refocus. Going back to a healthier way of living will get us back on track and living the sort of lives we were designed to live. It will also bring back the natural balance that is needed to save our environment on earth.
- Be adaptive. If you have had some misinformation and have gone off-course realign yourself and keep going. Same goes for if you lapse in your good intentions for saving the environment – just start again and keep going!
- Buy from a charity. Avoid buying new things whenever you can – it’s possible to pick up some fabulous and unique clothes and shoes in charity shops. Recycle or reuse whenever you can. Also, donate any items you no longer need to charity so that they keep their stock levels up.
- Embrace minimalism. Minimalism is a great way to help the environment — and yourself. It's easy to become far too focused on the belongings we own instead of our life experiences and who we are. Aim to spend your money on experiences rather than possessions (just watch your carbon footprint though!)
- Take five minutes every morning and find somewhere you can sit quietly, close your eyes, and really imagine the world you want to live in. Use your imagination to make it as detailed as possible. Picture what you want the world to look like, what it feels like to live in, what it smells like, etc. Visualising a healthier planet gives you something concrete to strive toward and helps you better understand the barriers that stand between reality and that world.
- Find support online. Instead of just sitting with your feelings, use your social media accounts as platforms to talk to others about these issues and find support. Through hashtags like #climatecrisis #veganlifestyle #consciousliving, I've found countless new friends who I can talk to about the best actions we can take. Through sharing ideas we can all learn new ways to lower our carbon footprint.
- Seek support from your friends. You might feel tempted to isolate yourself when you start feeling anxious but a better thing to do is take some sort of action with friends. Text your friends to meet you in a new spot somewhere - maybe a park, a street corner, or a community field -for a litter pick. Supply a few reusable bags and gloves for the group and spend half an hour to an hour walking around the area picking up any rubbish you see floating around. Afterward, as a reward, grab a coffee and have a chat. Getting friends involved can feel satisfying, and focusing on community issues can help you feel more in control of your immediate environmental surroundings.
- Remember what you're doing it for in the first place. Nature, the very thing we are worrying about, can act as the best therapist when we are anxious. Being in Nature and practicing mindfulness benefits our senses, can lower blood pressure, improve mood and sleep, and decrease stress levels. You might not have access to woodland and long nature walks but even a trip to a local park can help.
Even if you think you can do little to change this global problem, small changes in your carbon footprint can have a big impact on the environment and your mental health. Join together with others to address the issue, campaign for change and reduce your footprint where you can. It will feel more positive and empowering than avoiding the topic altogether. This proactive mindset will help keep the eco-anxiety at bay and help the planet too. Though there are bound to be bad days when the fear and anxiety take over, transforming your anxiety into action can be a real game-changer. Personally, I see it as incredibly exciting. It’s not too late to save the environment and so long as enough people take action we will end up living more natural, healthier, and happier lives – the way it should be.