Traveling on several occasions in recent months we stayed in hotels that did not have recycling bins in the room or lobby. We are pretty thorough recyclers at home, so we found ourselves puzzled over what to do with the growing collection of water bottles and dog food cans. As vacation days flew by our rental car became a tin can depository and our moral challenge evolved into what felt like eco-anxiety.
"Great, something else to worry about", I thought- and on vacation of all things. Granted, I knew life could have been a lot worse at that point if those bags of recycling were our biggest concern. Eventually we did find recycling bins at grocery stores so crisis was always averted. But, I predict that won't be the last I see of eco-anxiety. I still have pangs of guilt over buying that gas mower 6 years ago instead of the push mower; and I don't even have a lawn anymore.
Arriving home from vacation I was quick to Google "eco-anxiety" to see if I was on to something. Well, I was on to something all right- on to something that people have been on to for years. Now "ecopsychology" was a term I heard years ago in grad school and have long felt that our connection to the natural environment was an essential one. When we connect to the environment, be it through gardening, walks in the woods, star gazing or an eco-tour through the Costa Rican rainforest, we tend to gain a primal sense of connection and inner peace. Then in walks eco-anxiety and we've gone from connecting to the environment to worrying about whether or not there will be any environment left to connect with.
My Google search that day was prolific. It pulled numerous articles about this real and increasingly common phenomena of emotional distress stemming from eco consciousness. I'll point out that the word "anxiety" in this context is used to characterize an aspect of that distress in a culturally recognizable way rather than be taken in its formal diagnostic sense. The emotional response could be guilt over forgetting to bring the reusable shopping bags to the grocery store or anger from watching someone toss litter out their window. Could present as sleepless nights thinking about the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch or worrying about the melting polar ice caps. A growing number of people are living with such distress and that pervading sense of urgency that humans must change- quickly.
Below I've included links to several articles I found on eco-anxiety, including a 2008 New York Times piece. In that article eco-therapist Linda Buzzell was quoted as saying "Activism can help counteract depression. But if we get caught up in trying to save the world single-handedly, we're just going to burn out." This suggests a more balanced approach and an awareness that we must set limits with our emotional attachment to a cause. Think of it as caregiver stress on a global scale. We are happier, healthier, and in the long run able to contribute more when we stay cognizant of self-care. And, importantly, when we offer ourselves a healthy dose of praise for a job well done and forgiveness when it's not quite perfect. Perhaps we can then shift to a less pathological descriptor: eco-compassion?
Read the full articles here:
New York Times: Eco-anxiety replaces dishpam hands for 'green' moms
Time: It's Inconvenient Being Green
Eco-anxiety: Something Else to Worry About by Justin Nobel
Mother Nature Network: Eco-Anxiety
Brad Waters is a career & life strategy coach/consultant and writer based in Chicago. You can sign up for his newsletter and download his ebooks at howaboutcake.com. Follow on Facebook.
©2013, Brad Waters