‘Eco-anxiety’ grips many concerned young people

Not being able to slow down the climate crisis manifests as despair, hopelessness and even depression in individuals

People around the world feel a deep sense of despair, hopelessness and frustration because of their inability to make a difference to the planet, according to a report.

The climate crisis has changed the way the future is perceived. Many sense doom when they think about the fate of the world, says the American Psychological Association (APA).

A report prepared by the association describes the feeling as ‘eco-anxiety.’ With climate activists and scientists using words like ‘panic’ and ‘nature’s revenge’, fear is creeping into the minds of people.

Bengaluru is also in the grip of such anxiety. “The term eco-anxiety has not been used often in our field but I have come across cases that would fit the description,’’ says community mental health psychologist Mohit Sharma.

The most explicit case he has seen was at an event organised by The Hank Nunn Institute, where he works. A young man said the water crisis in Bengaluru made him feel frustrated and helpless. 

Melissa Alex, a young professional, says her anxiety comes from trying to become more environmentally conscious and not being able to make a pronounced impact.

“I travel two hours a day to and from work, and being stuck in traffic and contributing to the pollution and lowering air quality makes me feel guilty. But the alternative of an electric car is too expensive and public transportation is not to my convenience,” she says.

Disha A Ravi and Karen Raymond, members of the Karnataka chapter of Fridays For Future (FFF), an initiative begun by Greta Thunberg, also spoke to Metrolife about their experience with eco-anxiety.

Many members of the group suffer from it. “Tirelessly working for change and seeing none is generally what leads to anxiety,’’ says Disha. Most people dealing with such anxiety are between 18 and 27, she has found.

To combat it, the group tries to meet once a week and hold support group-like sessions. Members are also encouraged to take a step back and devote some time for self-care.  Vijay Nishanth, urban conservationist popularly known as the ‘tree doctor’, believes such anxiety is good.

“This panic pushes youngsters to take action and make the environment a priority. It is this anxiety that pushed me into activism 20 years ago,” he says.

But it’s not easy to turn anxiety into action. “When ordering food, a lot of the packaging is plastic. Even in terms of clothing, it’s very difficult to find sustainable workwear. The more environmentally conscious alternatives are more expensive. I know I can’t afford such a lifestyle and that makes me feel helpless,” Melissa says.

Karen has thrown herself into activism and more groundwork. “Although not clinically diagnosed with it, a large aspect of my diagnosis of depression was the climate crisis,’’ she says.

Karen’s symptoms present as overwhelming feelings of helplessness and doubt. She says thoughts of mass extinction rob her of her sleep. Activism, however, has helped her cope with some of the anxiety. 

Mohit says connecting with like-minded people helps individuals deal with anxiety in a healthy manner. 

Melissa finds older co-workers difficult to convince. “They understand there is a climate crisis but are not bothered because the consequences are not affecting them. It is increasingly tiring explaining to people why they should care. It affects your mental well-being,” she says.

While most forms of anxiety deal with irrational fears, eco-anxiety deals with a real threat.

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