If you are someone who cares about the environment, you likely have experienced feelings of climate anxiety, or eco-grief. Although these new terms may be unfamiliar, and there is some debate whether they are even appropriate terms to use a general feeling of impending doom and sadness about the damage to our environment is very real. As part of my RCC Fellowship project at UNC- Charlotte, a webinar series called, “Environmental Justice in Charlotte: Study & Practice,” I gathered local community organizers and students to discuss the existence of climate anxiety and strategies for dealing with it. Here is what we found that helps.
It may seem obvious, but sometimes the best thing to do is to get involved. Sitting around and listening to the news often only exacerbates the feelings of dread that already accompany the environmentalist’s heart. It is easy to feel helpless when the problem seems so big, and you feel so small. Of course, it is not entirely the individual’s responsibility to solve the climate crisis. But getting involved in any way — through protests, lobbying, canvassing, even registering people to vote — can alleviate some of your anxieties and help you feel like you’re making a difference. And, even in the smallest way, that makes a difference.
Local organizers for Sunrise Charlotte were among the attendees at the webinar. They emphasized the importance of building a community that can support you and shares your feelings about the climate crisis. That is why organizations like Sunrise are important. Especially for someone like me, whose family does not share my beliefs about the climate issue, doing this work can feel very lonely sometimes. If you need a community, click here to find your local Sunrise hub.
What better way to deal with your feelings about nature than by getting outside and being in nature? Studies have shown that spending time outdoors has excellent benefits such as reducing stress, improving attention, and increasing serotonin levels. Whether you go alone or with a group, being outside and taking in the world’s natural beauty can be the best medicine for treating climate anxiety. Try meditating, reading a book, bird watching, or just listening to the sounds of nature. Whatever you’re doing, just take a moment to appreciate our planet.
Perhaps the most important element in dealing with climate anxiety is to know that you don’t have to do it all. You are not alone. Although it sometimes doesn’t feel like it, there are others who share your feelings. Don’t be afraid to take a break from it all. If you feel overwhelmed, it is okay to step back and rely on others to also do that work. And when others also need to take that time, ask how you can support them. At the end of the day, we are all living on the same planet, working toward the same goal, and dealing with the same reality. None of us will make it through without the support of other environmentalists and without also making room for our own mental health.
RCC Fellow Alyssa Martin is a graduate student at UNC Charlotte and President of the university’s Graduate History Association. She is currently working towards a Master of Arts degree in History, concentrating on environmental history and Southern history. She is passionate about making research accessible to educate the broader public about environmental justice.
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