Krista Kurth, Ph.D.
Are you Experiencing Eco-Anxiety Triggered by the U.S. Election?
You still have time to make a difference–Vote now.
Have you been worrying about the outcome of the election in the U.S.?
I sure have.
While we have plenty of reasons to worry, the past few weeks I’ve been increasingly anxious about who U.S. citizens will elect as president because of the huge impact this decision will have on the future of our planet. If we re-elect the current administration, our country and the world will be screwed environmentally. We cannot afford four more years of environmental policy rollbacks and federal inaction on the climate crisis and environmental justice. If we are to stop the worst effects of climate change, we must take significant action in the U.S. now.
This is why, every time I think about the possibility of a repeat surprise like 2016, my stomach clenches, my heart races, and I feel like crying. Climate change is already creating natural disasters worldwide. How much worse will it get if we don’t cut our GHG emissions in half by 2030 and get to global net-zero by 2050? What kind of world will we be leaving our children and grandchildren? Will the planet still be habitable for them in thirty years, or are we all truly screwed?
My anxiety is not ordinary anxiety. It is what the experts call “eco-anxiety,” “climate change distress,” “eco-trauma,” “eco-angst,” or “ecological grief.” It differs from general anxiety (also prevalent these days for good reason). Regular anxiety involves our body’s natural response to perceived threats with fight-flight-freeze survival reaction. It usually arises in response to far-fetched or irrational fears and thoughts we have about the future. But in this case, my fears aren’t unfounded. The climate crisis presents actual threats to life.
However, eco-anxiety arises as a “chronic fear of environmental doom,” (Glossary of American Psychological Association 2017 report on climate change and mental health) and is often accompanied by feelings of powerlessness from “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold.” Faced with this seemingly insurmountable challenge, people “are deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness and frustration due to their inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change.”
As difficult as it is to experience these intense worries, something inside me knows that my eco-anxiety is an appropriate response to the scale of the climate crisis before us. This kind of emotional energy, if dealt with healthily and directed well, can inspire action. As Crystal Raypole, in a healthline.com article on the topic says, “it’s possible to see eco-anxiety as a rare case of anxiety working as intended. It functions as a motivator for survival, a unique emotional response propelling humankind to seek out solutions for climate damage.”
But this means we have to make a choice: we can either collapse under the weight of our fear, or we can view its appearance as a sign that something in our lives or in the world needs our attention, and take action.
Personally, I am choosing to honor my eco-anxiety and work with it so I can redirect its energy towards positive action. I find it helpful to think of emotions like anxiety as energy in motion. And that puts me into motion. It’s why I’ve donated to the campaigns of candidates who support climate action and signed up with Vote Forward to send letters to citizens in important states encouraging them to vote. And why I texted with Greenpeace to urge environmental voters to make a plan to return their ballots early.
And it’s why I am now urging all of you, if you haven’t already done so, to get out and vote. Deal with your anxiety, put on a mask and stand in line. It’s not too late to exercise your right to choose a president, vice president, and members of congress who will take the existential crisis facing us all seriously.
Then go home and visualize a new president and new congress being inaugurated in January. See the president selecting a cabinet that will start working immediately on implementing policies to scale up our response to the climate crisis. See the Senate and House approving a comprehensive climate plan as their first order of business. And if you want to go further, add an end to the pandemic and racial injustice to your visualization.
As Anita Moorjani writes, “Every time you feel anxiety, use that as a trigger to take some deep breaths, and then think to yourself: ‘This fear or anxiety is happening in my life to tell me what I don’t want. What do I want instead?’ Start visualizing what you do want. Gently focus on that.”
My guess is that my eco-anxiety won’t disappear after the election. I will need to continue work with it until we’ve turned the corner on climate. Luckily, there are many helpful techniques I can draw on to support me. I will share them with you in my next post.
Until then, rely on nature to help you stay calm, and vote.
All the best, Eco-Omi/ Krista
As always, I’d love to know what’s grabbing your attention or what questions are running through your mind. Let me know in the comments section. I’ll respond in one of my blog posts.
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