What is eco-anxiety and how does it affect our mental health?
Published Sep 9, 2023 • By Candice Salomé
Stress, anxiety, anger... Thinking about the climate and the future of our planet can stir up lots of negative emotions in all of us. For several years now, the term 'eco-anxiety' has been making its way into the public debate, describing the anguish experienced by people who worry about the consequences of global warming and all that this implies for biodiversity.
So what does the term 'eco-anxiety' really mean? Who is most affected by eco-anxiety? How does eco-anxiety manifest itself? How can it be managed?
We explain it all in our article!
What does the term “eco-anxiety” really mean?
The term "eco-anxiety" comes from the words "ecology" and "anxiety". Eco-anxiety was theorized in 1997 by Véronique Lapaige, a public health researcher.
The concept of eco-anxiety is being increasingly used in the media and is the subject of growing interest from the academic and medical worlds.
The definition given to "eco-anxiety" in dictionaries or research papers is as follows: "A feeling of concern, worry, anguish and anxiety experienced by certain individuals which is provoked by current upheavals or threats to the environment, linked in particular to climate disruption."
According to the American Psychological Association, eco-anxiety is "a chronic fear of environmental catastrophe". It is therefore a form of pre-traumatic stress, since this type of anxiety anticipates the uncertain effects of climate change.
People affected by it live with the psychological consequences of fear and uncertainty about the future. This prevents them from projecting themselves into the future as other people usually do.
How does eco-anxiety manifest itself?
Because of phenomena such as rising sea levels, food insecurity and the expansion of land exposed to water stress, the human condition itself is at the heart of ecological concerns.
Young people are particularly affected by eco-anxiety. In fact, 59% of 16-25 year-olds worldwide suffer from it, according to a study by the journal The Lancet Planetary Health in 2021, which questioned 10,000 young people in ten countries.
Eco-anxiety is not considered to be a mental health condition. Nevertheless, its manifestations can be similar: sleep disorders, weight loss, depression, etc.
Although eco-anxiety is not currently considered to be either a syndrome or a psychiatric diagnosis, insofar as it does not feature in either the DSM-5 or the ICD-10 - the two classification tools used worldwide to classify mental disorders - the medical world, and psychiatry in particular, is taking a close interest in this concept, from which more and more people are suffering.
Eco-anxiety manifests itself as a feeling of anxiety and stress linked to environmental concerns.
Those affected may feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of environmental challenges. To this can be added the feelings of sadness, difficulty in experiencing joy and, sometimes, unexplained crying. Eco-anxiety can also lead to somatization, which can take the form of physical symptoms such as headaches, sleep disorders, digestive problems and other stress-related symptoms.
Eco-anxiety can also have a serious impact on the daily lives and social and family relationships of sufferers. Eco-anxious individuals may find it difficult to concentrate on their tasks and maintain healthy relationships with those around them.
When eco-anxiety is too much a part of everyday life, it can lead to social isolation and a deterioration in people's quality of life.
How can eco-anxiety be managed?
People affected by eco-anxiety can use various strategies to deal with it and to transform their anxiety into positive action.
As a first step, it is important to learn about environmental issues and understand what actions can be taken to contribute to positive change.
Joining a group or network of like-minded people can be beneficial. There are various communities where you can discuss environmental issues and try to find and implement solutions together.
Taking part in a collective action, such as collecting rubbish on beaches, can help eco-anxious people feel useful and have a positive, tangible impact on their immediate environment.
What's more, adopting a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle on a daily basis can also be a source of relief for eco-anxious people. For example, reducing energy consumption, recycling waste, choosing the most energy-efficient means of transport, making responsible food choices, etc., can bring a sense of personal fulfillment and control.
Finally, taking time for yourself and relaxing, practicing meditation, doing breathing exercises, etc. can help you regain emotional balance.
Nevertheless, if the situation doesn't improve, do not hesitate to seek psychological support from a healthcare professional.
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Éco anxiété : ces 5 signes qui traduisent un mal être écologique, La clinique e-santé
Qu'est-ce que l'éco-anxiété ?, Livi
Eco-anxiété : analyse d’une angoisse contemporaine, Fondation Jean Jaurès
Les jeunes générations peuvent-elles surmonter leur éco-anxiété ?, National Geographic
Comment vivre avec l'éco-anxiété ?, L’Etudiant