10 Ways to Manage Eco Anxiety, Depression, and Activist Burnout
Are you or someone in your life feeling drained from advocating for conservation, climate action, or environmental justice?
Read on to learn about the dangers of persistent eco anxiety as well as 10 ways to regain your strength and motivation, because we need you to feel in your optimal state of wellbeing so that you can continue to bring about your best work to the causes you feel most passionate about.
How environmental issues are causing eco anxiety:
As it turns out, climate change is not only driving mass extinction, ocean acidification, and an increasing number of extreme weather events and natural disasters, it's also taking a toll on our mental health, too.
According to the American Psychological Association, “Gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.”
As humans, we're problem-solvers. When we come upon a crisis, we want to address that as soon as possible to protect ourselves from potential threats to our safety and wellbeing.
However, because large-scale events such as climate change and biodiversity loss cannot be addressed and fixed immediately, the result is that environmental activists often experience chronic anxiety and stress from feeling a sense of doom and gloom in face of the enormity of these global issues.
This is a condition recognized as “eco anxiety” and is a completely natural human response, though is one that we have to learn to consciously manage to avoid its potential harms to our health.
The health risks from eco anxiety:
In addition to feeling a lack of motivation or starting to feel apathetic towards our mission, chronic eco anxiety and stress can also cause depression, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and substance abuse, as well as put us at an increased risk of all types of illnesses (since chronic stress suppresses the immune system and causes chronic inflammation).
People who are genetically predisposed to certain mental health conditions and many marginalized and low-income communities are at an even greater risk.
So if you're feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, do read on for 10 actions you can take to regain your strength and motivation, and remember that as an environmental activist, you have to stay attentive to and prioritize your own needs and wellbeing.
After all, we cannot make a positive impact on the world if we don’t have the mental, emotional, and physical energy to do so!
10 ways to manage eco anxiety and activist burnout
1) Disconnect for a moment and let go.
Whenever you start to feel that tightness of anxiety in your chest or a feeling of hopelessness, know that it's okay to take a moment to just turn off.
Sometimes, simply unplugging and going for a walk, having a Netflix binge, or taking a nap can leave you feeling more refreshed and ready to get back to work.
If you have a moment right now, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and hold onto a moment of gratitude, acknowledging yourself for all that you've already done.
2) Recognize that you don't need to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Shelby Orme referenced this Jana Stanfield quote on episode 119 of Green Dreamer Podcast, and it really resonated with us as well as our listeners:
“You cannot do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.”
You are just one person, and you can only do so much! Being informed about all of the problems in our world can be incredibly overwhelming for one individual, and it can make you miserable if you allow it to.
But the truth is, your anguish doesn’t actually help anyone if it only weighs you down instead of fueling you on in your work and life.
Whenever you need to, take a pause to remind yourself that you're not single-handedly responsible for all of our world's issues, nor can you single-handedly solve them. Instead, recognize that you're not alone and that you're one part of a collective movement of individuals who share your passion and purpose.
Whether it’s through a reminder on your mirror, alarm on your phone, or morning and evening affirmations, allow yourself to let go of carrying the weight of the world on your own shoulders and instead, continue to take action on what you have direct control over.
3) Know that you have to feel energized and activated first in order to be helpful to your cause.
Consider what flight attendants say while going through their safety demonstrations before taking off:
“If cabin pressure changes and oxygen masks drop down, you must put on your own mask before helping others—even your own children.”
This may seem counterintuitive to you if you’re a natural caregiver with a big heart, but if you don’t put your mask on first, then you may not be able to help anyone else!
The same goes for your life and work. In order to make a positive impact in the world, you simply have to have the health and energy to do so—or else it’s not sustainable!
What are some ways, big or small, in which you can re-energize yourself throughout your day and week? You can’t pour from an empty cup—so fill yours up!
4) Develop practices that help you thrive.
Do you have habits in your life that ensure your mental and physical sustainability on a personal level? Things like exercise, healthy eating, enough sleep, and a mindfulness practice can go a long way in keeping ourselves strong, healthy, and resilient enough to deal with eco anxiety and the stresses of everyday life.
That said, if even adding or altering these habits seems overwhelming to you right now, just start with the smallest first step you can take.
I highly recommend the book Atomic Habits by James Clear for help establishing healthy habits in a very accessible way. If possible, be proactive about establishing health-promoting habits and practices before you reach burnout.
5) Zoom out and choose the perspectives you focus on.
Consciously owning your power to choose your perspective is extremely powerful.
Because of our human negativity bias, we innately are more likely to fixate on what's going wrong.
However, there are so many amazing things happening as well that we can learn from, get inspired by, and use a motivation to fuel us forward!
To start, you can sign up for Green Dreamer's weekly newsletter to receive positive, solutions-driven stories on regeneration and sustainability.
Then, if you still feel that the doom and gloom is getting to you, remember that creating positive changes in your life and for the world is a marathon and not a sprint.
If you somehow end up with some plastic to-go containers or styrofoam packaging, don’t beat yourself up over it. Aim for progress over perfection, give yourself grace, and keep the big picture in mind.
6) Surround yourself with people who uplift you.
Research shows that a healthy support system is an integral part of human health.
Being around family members, colleagues, and friends who make you laugh, support your dreams, and make you a better person is an essential ingredient for resilience.
If you don’t have a strong support system yet, don’t be afraid to take the first step! Invite an old friend out to coffee to catch up with or take a family member out for a lunch date.
Cultivating just two or three close relationships over time can make an incredible impact on supporting your overall, long-term wellbeing.
7) Join a community of people who share the same passion.
Being around others who have a similar mission can make it so much easier to stay motivated when things get tough.
You can ask questions, share frustrations, celebrate wins, and ultimately be assured that you’re not alone in your mission.
If you're looking for a community of people passionate about realizing a better future, consider joining our Green Dreamer Network—a digital sanctuary for grounding connections and the exchange of regenerative ideas and inspirations.
8) Read books, articles, or listen to podcasts about change makers doing incredible work.
One of the amazing things about the internet is that it's made access to information so widely available to anyone with a Wi-Fi connection.
When you start to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, do a quick search to learn about what other people, companies, or organizations are doing to be a positive force in the world.
Hearing about the actions being taken and success stories of resilience can give you a breath of fresh air and a renewed sense of hope.
9) Just take one small action to support your cause.
It might be a cliché, but it’s true: Rome wasn’t built in a day. In the same way, the most powerful movements that have taken place throughout history did not just come together overnight.
On the contrary, everything that has made a positive impact in the world was done through a series of incremental, small steps.
If you find yourself overwhelmed about the amount of work ahead of you to advance your cause, take a deep breath, think about the one next step you can take, and take that action.
Oftentimes, we can snap out of feeling a lack of motivation and overwhelm just by taking action one on small thing.
If you're unsure where to start, check out this list of environmental nonprofits to see what they're each doing as well as how you may be able to participate.
10) Seek for support from health professionals.
Sometimes, we might just need help from a health professional, whether for one consultation, a season, or for more long-term support.
The truth is that the guidance of a trained therapist, psychiatrist, and/or coach can prove instrumental in improving and managing your mental health.
It doesn’t matter if you have a diagnosed mental health condition or if you simply have some anxiety, emotional turbulence, or difficult life circumstances—therapy can be beneficial for just about anyone.
If you don’t already have a therapist or know someone who can give you a trusted referral, don’t be afraid to “date around” in order to find a professional that is the best fit for you.
If you’re struggling with the mental or emotional effects of eco anxiety or depression, trauma, or activist burnout, know that you are not alone.
By implementing the above practices into your life, one at a time, as you work toward your cause, you'll be able to ensure personal sustainability that will allow you to maximize your positive impact while enjoying life and this beautiful planet at the same time.
Learn more from our past Green Dreamer Podcast episodes on resilience, mental health, and holistic wellness for activists:
Abigail Davidson fuels her passion for personal development, social impact, and holistic wellness by supporting individuals on their own journeys toward creating happy, healthy, and meaningful lifestyles.
Follow her on Instagram at @theschoolofwellbeing.