How to avoid eco-anxiety
The concept of ‘eco-anxiety’ has had plenty of press recently – the fear of future catastrophe as we move into the crunch zone of climate change in particular. As well as the obvious toll on mental health, eco-anxiety breeds helplessness which creates a vicious cycle of terror and inaction – the exact opposite of what we need. Here’s my top five tips to keep you sane:
- Be proactive.This is the number one habit in Stephen Covey’s gazillion-selling self-help book the 7 Secrets of High Successful People and for good reason. When faced with a massive challenge, doing something about it always feels (and is) better than standing like a rabbit in the headlights. It is difficult to remain upbeat with the orange apocalypse of forest fires in Australia looking even worse than the producers of The Road could manage, but for our sakes and our children’s we must. So find something positive you can do – plant a tree, buy a bike to commute to work, start an eco-group in the office, go on a litter pick along a river, whatever – and do it.
- Don’t point the finger. I’ve long been a fan of Ross Perot’s mantra “The activist is not the person who says the river is dirty. The activist is the person who cleans up the river.” I grasped this at the start of my eco-career when I decided to eschew the finger-pointing of traditional pressure groups for the tree-planting and habitat creation of the Conservation Volunteers. You can often shake up the system by doing something, rather than ranting.
- Ration the bad news. One of the downsides of the social media age is how we all inhabit echo-chambers of people who largely agree with us. For people passionate about the environment, that can be a thoroughly depressing experience, especially when recent converts to the climate cause start misinterpreting the science and/or use it to further their own political ends – “it’s not your fault, it’s all the neoliberal elites’ fault” etc. While we need to keep an eye on the science, it is worth skipping over much of the shroud waving (don’t feel guilty about this, it’s your right to decide what media you consume).
- Share the good news. I deliberately seek out good news and pass it round via social media, my newsletters, workshops etc, partially to keep others from getting rooted to the stop by fear and partially to keep myself sane. The most effective internal green corporate communications I have seen are case studies of employees who have done something inspirational. If you are sharing two or three times as much good news as bad news, you’re doing it right.
- Don’t tell others to act. My whole Green Jujitsu approach to engaging people in Sustainability was inspired by the utter failure of traditional, preachy engagement techniques. In Green Jujitsu we don’t tell people why they must act, we ask them why they think they should act (and then shut up and listen). The difference in practice is quite extraordinary – and you get the personal boost of seeing others signing up to the cause rather than (metaphorically) crossing the road when they see you coming.
Look after yourselves folks, we have a massive challenge in front of us and we need you fit and well to do your bit!