A 4-STEP ACTION PLAN FOR ECO ANXIETY

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

I'm writing this during an eerily warm fall day in New York. When it's 70 degrees in November, my heart HURTS. I walk outside in a t-shirt, grieving for the season I love most, angry out our suicidally stupid federal government, heartbroken for the creatures that are suffering from erratic temperatures. 

Like many of you, my eco anxiety is embodied. It manifests itself in a struggle to focus and breathe. Climate chaos is our new norm and it isn't always easy to make the transition from acceptance toward action. I believe deep in my bones that healing this world is possible. But I still grieve for what we have lost and are losing. I still feel fear and anxiety about what will be. 

In the last few weeks, several readers have asked me about how I work through eco anxiety. I definitely don't have the answer, but this action plan, below, has helped me tremendously. I hope you can use it as a launchpad for generating your own action plan because the world needs us right now. She needs our energy and our joy and our hope. She needs us to be activists in our own communities and advocates for our sliver of the universe. It's in that spirit that creating a series of strategic steps each one of us can turn to in our darker hours is so damn essential. It gives us a path back to ourselves so that we can choose to spark change and not succumb to fear. 

STEP 1: BREATHE (AND THEN READ)

When I'm feeling anxious, I almost always want to numb myself in Netflix. It takes a lot of willpower to choose to sit with my sadness but I'm grateful whenever I do. I'll find a nice nook in my bedroom or a quiet patch of grass at a nearby park and breathe in and out. Again (and again). Pushing myself to be present helps me quiet my reptilian brain and tune into the kind of peace and patience necessary for sustaining my work as an environmental steward.

I like to read too. Sometimes I'll scroll through Yes! Magazine for stories of resiliency, rebuilding, and resistance, but given that most of the time taking a tech detox is an integral part of working thru my eco anxiety, I choose to open up a book instead. I cherish Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and have found particular solace lately in No Time Like the Present by meditation teacher Jack Kornfield. And when I'm feeling hungry to act, I turn to Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown. My friend Liv of Zero Waste Habesha shared this read with me and it is truly a resource of resiliency. 

STEP 2: MAKE ONE SMALL CHANGE

Action is really the only antidote to anxiety. Feeling helpless only feeds the fossil fuel plutocracy—and I don't want to give Trump and his allies any more fuel for their fire. So whenever I'm mired in anxiety, I commit myself to making one small change that I can do right away. What constitutes a small change looks different for each and every one of us. It might mean choosing to divest from a big bank (here's a breakdown of how to transfer your money toward a credit union). It might mean signing up to be a volunteer with Food and Water Watch. It might mean bringing your own reusable mug to the coffee shop that day. Whatever change you choose to make, trust it doesn't have to be radical to make a difference. When you're healing from anxiety, making one small change is ENOUGH. Really. So do what you can for that day and trust you'll continue to do more and dig deeper as you nourish your resiliency. 

STEP 3: DONATE TO A CAUSE THAT YOU CARE ABOUT

When I'm wrestling with eco anxiety, I worry I'm not doing enough. I get stressed that my work as an environmental educator isn't sufficient given that I'm not working in any meaningful way toward policy change. I question my art. I undermine my passion. In the throes of anxiety, I so easily forget that my work is part of a much larger web. There is only so much each one of us can do. 

 It's for that reason that I choose to donate to organizations who are doing vital work in realms very different than my own. I've been particularly inspired lately by the work of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Renewable Energy Alaska Project. These intersectional movements are working on initiatives that support policies for a livable future and fuel community resilience. Learning about their work gives me hope when I'm knee deep in eco anxiety and reminds me that inaction is a luxury. 

STEP 4: SHOWER YOUR LOVED ONES IN LOVE

Eco anxiety sucks. Being overwhelmed by fear and grief inhibits many of us from doing what we can to heal this world and find joy in our lives. And although anxiety is often rooted in wild hypothetical fears, it still can feel like the truth. 

So when I'm finding my way out of an anxiety spiral (because I can get myself real wrapped up), I gravitate toward experiences that bring a big bucket of love into my life. I write love notes to my friends. I go for a walk and thank the trees out loud. I cook a meal for my sweetie. I try to be as unabashedly loving as I can be—because that's the only truth I'm sure of in this world. 

 

That's my action plan. What's yours?