Words by Abi Scaife
You’ve no doubt heard the phrase climate anxiety – maybe even climate dread or eco-anxiety. Either way, it means the same thing: a persistent feeling of anxiety around climate change, or the environment. Sounding familiar?
At Smiley Movement, we profile the very best individuals, groups, and organisations who are doing their best to take action for the sake of our planet, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
In fact, a 2022 study by the University of Bath found climate anxiety is not always negative, and it can be a “motivating force for taking action” to reduce emissions, and adapting our high-carbon lifestyles to become more environmentally friendly. Because, despite everything, there are ways to combat climate anxiety - and help the planet while you’re at it.
There’s something to be said for going out into nature, touching grass and putting an end to the doom-scroll for a while. Take it one step further and start taking care of what is around you - prune a tree, water a flower, or even plant some produce and grow your own food.
This is something you can do whether you live in a house with a garden or the 50m2 box flat you’ve been in since uni. Studies have shown gardening helps relieve stress and improve mental health, so the fact that it helps the environment (and you’re shopping extremely locally) is a bonus.
Start small, with easy-to-grow herbs like mint - then branch out (pun totally intended), and add a chilli plant in there. Give yourself small successes, get back in touch with nature, while doing your bit for the planet, and give yourself the space to breathe.
We all know exercise has positive effects on mental health, as does volunteering - so why not go ahead and mix the two together?
“People making changes themselves in their local area gives them ownership over those places,” said Autumn Barlow, Communications and Press Officer for The Wildlife Trust and their Nextdoor Nature project. “That makes a difference. We know from lots of studies that being in green areas [...] has a measurable impact on people’s health and wellbeing.”
The Nextdoor Nature project works with communities to benefit people and nature, which makes it a great option for anyone struggling with climate anxiety.
Green Gyms, run by The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) is another great option. They're fun, free, sessions where volunteers get to help transform local green spaces. This gives you the opportunity to combine exercise with helping the environment - and puts you in touch with like-minded people who share your concerns about the climate crisis.
“I think a lot of the climate crisis has been [because of] loss of our connection with nature, and forgetting that all this - what we do - has such an impact on the natural environment.“ said Rachel Hoyes, the Health Development Manager with TCV.
RENT AND SHARE CLOTHING
The fashion industry has quickly become one of the most detrimental industries to the climate, which is a tough pill to swallow for most people. But fear not, there are things you can do to make your fashion habits more sustainable, without sacrificing your style.
We spoke to Jen Charon, co-founder of LOANHOOD, a peer-to-peer clothing rental app, which set up by Jen and two of her friends, Jade McSorely and Lucy Hall, as a way for people to rent out fashion items online. Not only is it much cheaper than buying clothes new - it’s much better for the environment.
“I think that's what's going to help make big changes - people power,” said Jen. “Lots of people making a small change, adding up to something bigger.”
The textile industry is notoriously bad for the environment - pumping between 1.22 and 2.93 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation.
One of the best ways to make yourself feel better is to help other people - it’s cliche, sure, but it’s a cliche for a reason. Connecting with others is good for your mental health, as is building relationships. Not only can they help you, but you can help them - and sometimes that’s even more important.
Evidence shows helping other people can have a positive effect on our mental health - not only can it lift your mood, but studies show it can relieve stress, too. So if you’re struggling with climate anxiety that’s all the more reason to reach out to others who might also be struggling.
Reach out to your friends and family, and talk with them about your climate anxiety and your fears for the future. Not only does venting to loved ones have a huge impact on your emotions, but it opens up important conversations. And, if you can’t find a community near you that shares your climate anxiety, why not make one?
“Find a tribe - find people to talk to,” said Rachel Knox, the Social impact development officer for the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Cardiff Metropolitan University. “Find your voice and speak the truth because you're not on your own. [Climate anxiety] affects everybody - it affects people of all ages and we’re all looking for a solution.”
“We need [young people] to be activists and changemakers - we need them to speak out and it's easier to do that if you find your community and speak out with them.”