The latest in our occasional series by members of the Foresight team, this post by our Brand Manager, Michelle Zazulak, offers an insightful and honest look at a feeling that many of us have experienced.
What do you love about your anxiety?
A counsellor once asked me this in the midst of a session, and I was completely stunned by the question. What is there to love about anxiety?
At the time, I was in the midst of becoming fully, painfully, viscerally aware of the impending climate disaster. I suffered daily panic attacks. I dove head first into rabbit holes of online climate research and predictions of the next 25, 50, 100 years. I stayed up all night, paralyzed by dread over natural disasters, famines, loss of culture and society as we knew it. I wondered what the world would look like for my future children.
This is Climate Anxiety.
I’m not alone. According to a 2020 study by the American Psychiatric Association, “more than 67% of Americans are somewhat or extremely anxious about the impacts of climate change on the planet”.
So with over half the population experiencing bouts of paralyzing fear and dread, how are we expected to tackle the biggest global threat humanity has ever faced? I believe it all comes down to that question that, at the time, felt so minimizing and ridiculous: What do you love about your anxiety?
When humans are calm, comfortable, or relaxed, what do we do? We do nothing. We stick with the status quo to keep the good times flowing. We maintain our same daily routines, we vote for the same political parties, we buy the same groceries, we plan the same annual trips. We stay cozy in our sameness.
When humans are uncomfortable, when we are afraid, when we are angry, we act. We fight. We protest. We revolt. We have hard conversations. We adopt new habits. We demand change.
Anxiety can be a vessel for change. A renewable-fuel-powered rocket ship towards a better future. Change doesn’t grow in a state of comfort. Change thrives in turbulence.
Part of living with Climate Anxiety is recognizing that one person’s impacts may not solve the crisis. The actions that may temporarily quell our fears (buying a metal straw and bringing a reusable shopping bag everywhere) do very little to impact the overall situation.
Daily life with Climate Anxiety hinges on finding balance between the things we as individuals can change, and the things we can’t. Since waking up to the climate emergency, I’ve worked to minimize my environmental impact in every walk of life. No environmentalist is perfect, and we shouldn’t need to be. But between individual action (prioritizing plant-based foods, driving and flying less, supporting businesses with strong green ethics) and collective action (signing petitions, pressuring industry and government to meet net zero targets, voting with our dollars), we can build a better world.
Through careful self-reflection and the support of sympathetic mental health professionals and loved ones, I have learned to love my Climate Anxiety. To take back my power from it. To use that power to be better. And doing so has enriched my life. It forces me to make choices for generations to come, not just for myself. It shows me how beautiful and fragile our planet is, and the consequences of our inaction.
Falling in Love with Climate Anxiety
But if you haven’t fallen in love with your Climate Anxiety yet, here are a few suggestions that worked for me:
- Understand what it wants. Anxiety of any kind is trying to keep you safe. Your mind senses a threat, and is screaming at you to avoid it.
- Maintain a balance. Chances are, if you have Climate Anxiety, you’re deeply aware of the issues we are facing. Consuming too much repetitive news on environmental disasters will throw you too far into the depression side of anxiety, and we can’t act when we’re depressed.
- Keep track of your positive changes. Have you adopted new habits or taken bold action for the planet? Keep a list, and reflect back on those things when you feel hopeless. Chances are, you wouldn’t have taken action without the help of your anxiety.
- Talk about it. Overcoming climate change is a global, collective fight. Building a community and connecting over Climate Anxiety can help you to feel less alone, and less helpless.
I think more people should have Climate Anxiety. Imagine if we all had it. If 100% of us felt the same dread and fear towards our future, we would tackle this challenge collectively today, not tomorrow. As long as we’re comfortable, we don’t move.
Climate Anxiety is a visceral by-product of waking up to the emergency we’re facing. You have seen the tiger on your path, and your mind is screaming at you to make a decision. What will you do? Will you run? Will you hide? Or will you fight? You would do none of these things without your anxiety. You would just stand there, unable to interpret the threat.
I hope you will choose to join me in the fight.
If you are struggling with mental health and need to speak with someone, free support is available. In Canada, connect with Wellness Together Canada by texting the word WELLNESS to the following numbers for immediate assistance:
- 686868 for youth
- 741741 for adults
- Front Line Workers, text the word FRONTLINE to 741741