Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An Eco-Anxiety Retrospective

What a Difference a Year Makes

It was just over a year ago when we began to see news coverage about "eco-anxiety." If you recall most of the articles referred to it in a rather demeaning manner as new designer malady concocted to describe growing concerns about environmental threats experienced primarily by neurotic, suburban housewives with too much time on their hands.

Coverage continued in that vein through last spring, then then began to wane until its all but vanished. Not the use of the word. No, just the demeaning tone. At the end of this post you'll find a few examples of the kind of frequent and widespread attention the term is getting today.

If you check these out, you'll notice the term eco-anxiety has become integrated into normal parlance, taken more or less as a given of our time. You'll notice also that rather than its being cast in the pejorative, more often that not it is being used in conjunction with tips and ideas for what someone can do about concerns one feels about such things as peak oils, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Here are several reasons for this quick and robust shift and what I see as the implications for us as helping professionals:

1. There is near universal acceptance now that there are very real and serious concerns about climate change and the future availability of cheap fossil fuel. This both makes the topic and people's concerns respectable and thus reduces anxiety levels somewhat for those whose concerns arose because it seemed that no one else but them was recognizing these impending threats. At least now these concerns can be discussed and options discussed in most polite company.

President-elect Obama's message to the public is certainly a help here. Not only is he bringing up environmental concerns as real and pressing, but also he is saying that the problems we face and the changes we will be needed to make are going to be long and hard ones, igniting some of the spirit of heartiness and endurance Franklin Roosevelt brought out to inspire people to hunker down and work together during the Great Depression and World War II.

2. Concerns about the economy are rapidly overshadowing eco-concerns for both the public and the media. Of course, there is a direct relationship between our living beyond the carrying capacity of the earth and its rapid degradation and our own burdens of debt and economic peril. But this relationship is not yet apparent to many and certainly we can help make the connections between the two. Fortunately many of the things we need to be doing to safeguard our health and well-being lives and address our eco-concerns are the same from living more simply, driving less, spending less, and becoming more self-reliant.

The rapid economic downturn is causing intense concern and suffering, however. Requests for counseling have soared 40% in the last six months with financial worries or marital problems arising from financial stress spurring most of this increase. Concerns among those already distressed over environmental issue can also arise when one is faced with the reality that healthier, "green" ways of life may be beyond one's means in today's economy. Realizing, for example, that one can no longer afford or is unable to relocate to less expensive, more eco-friendly area or to a small,er more energy-efficient home, for example.

3. But offsetting the above escalation in concerns is a growing number of people who are becoming involved in movements like local Transition Initiatives, so they 're no longer alone in their concerns. Instead they are directing their concern into constructive action. The Transition Initiatives were started in Totnes, UK, and has spread to over 100 towns there. It is growing quickly in the United States and spreading to Japan, New Zealand and Australia as well.

There are a variety of additional noteworthy elements to this movement applicable to us as helping professionals. First, they approach the changes we need to make as both an inner and outer process. So the psychological aspects of today's issues are being addressed and helping professionals are getting involved both personally and in their roles.

Eco-nomic concerns and anxieties will most certainly rise in the coming year. It will not be an easy year. Helping our clients understand what's happening, providing resources, and support in making practical, day-to-day changes will be crucial. It will be particularly important for us to resist the temptation to tell them all will be well soon, as it will not. But we also need to uplift our own spirits and those of our clients for affiliating with others who are working to make the fundamental structural changes in the way we live and work.

One of the ways we can help is to reframe all the "bad news" we're being bombarded with by the media as "good news." For example, we're hearing regular reports that shopping is down, people are using their credit cards less, borrowing less, learning ways to be more frugal, making things last, repairing our belongs, doing things for ourselves like making our own meals or entertaining family land friends at home. We're driving less, buying smaller cars, or riding a bike to work, traveling less or not as far. We're buying from local family farmers, volunteering to do more for others who need help, and using the library instead of the video store. (For these reports and more see the Middle Class Advocacy Institute News Updates and Archives.)

Such news is usually presented as a sign of how bad things are. We need to help our clients see that these changes are the very ones we all need to be making both for our own well-being and the well-being of the environment. They are signs that we are waking up, that we can adapt to the challenges ahead, and that we're beginning to move in the right direction. As we begin to think of such changes as an active choice instead of something being foisted on us, we immediately become more resilient and capable of moving on.

It is my wish that the New Year will bring a still greater awareness that "eco-anxiety" is a normal and natural response to the unprecedented challenges we face across the globe but that we can reach out to others in our community, work together to respond responsibly, and when needed find help from nearby professionals who are aware of today's realities and worked to marshall both the inner and outer resources we all need.

Samples of Recent Eco-Anxiety Google Alerts

Quiet Nature: Water- The Essential Source Of All Life On Earth By Sherry Many people are experiencing 'Eco-anxiety', due to the current Economic and Environmental Crisis. My aim is to inspire people weekly to experience shifting their attention and feel the physiological healing possible from Nature. ...Quiet Nature -
Google Web Alert for: eco-anxiety

Eco-anxiety Videos - Watch Video about Eco-anxiety on Mefeedia Watch eco-anxiety videos. Find the most recent eco-anxiety video and clips from thousands of online video sites on Mefeedia.

Soulways Center for Conscious Evolution - Melissa Pickett - Santa ...As in Fox News, Melissa Pickett is owner of the Soul Ways Center for conscious evolution. Alternative to psychologists for many symptoms such as eco-anxiety.

Green products reviews, ethical advice and eco gift ideas Blog ...Posted on Monday December 8th, 2008 at 19:19 in eco anxiety, eco humour, environmental, green energy. The petrol crisis in the UK appears to have dialled ...

How Eco-anxiety Works - HowStuffWorks - Yahoo! Buzz Lifestyle. » View all Lifestyle stories · Image: How Eco-anxiety Works ... How Eco-anxiety Works · HowStuffWorks. Made Popular: Nov 3, 2008 - While it's ...

Diagnosis: Eco-Anxiety EcoSalon - The Green Gathering Eco-anxiety: it’s a new term that’s being used to describe people’s nervousness about global warming or secret guilt about not taking canvas bags to the.

Eco Anxiety Algae fuel Animal rights bio bugs bio fuel Carbon footprint cheaper Eco Button Consumerism eco anxiety Eco balls Eco Button £9.99 eco christmas eco friendly ...

Green Gazette November 2008 - Ohlone College Most people have never heard of eco anxiety, but it is actually recognized as ... Eco Anxiety is the stress that people carry about the their impact and the ...

(c) Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008
Distribution for informational purposes only is encouraged.


  1. Thank you for sharing this retrospective, Sarah. The wisdom and framing you have expressed will be useful in my ecopsychological practice...and better enable me to effectively help with the transition to a simpler, more fulfilling and sustainable future.

  2. I'd love to interview you at EcoSalon, Sarah. Please contact me if you are interested. editor at ecosalon dot com. Thanks!


  3. Thank you, Allison. I have continued to reflect on this past year and know that we have so much more to do in raising awareness of what we're all facing. Yet the changes this past year have occurred at breath-taking lightening speed for such macro-alterations. Of course, it has been a long time in coming. Most people just didn’t notice. Others simple didn’t want to notice and some actually went out of they way to deny and make sure every else did too.
    When Middle Class Lifeboat came out last January, we thought most people would have a few years to voluntarily adjust the way they live. But for many that is already no longer an option. Change is being forced upon a lot of us.
    I realize there is no way we can prevent considerable levels of pain and suffering for many, nor would we want to deny, avoid, or brush aside the feelings today's changes are bringing. But was can share perspective, insight, lots of practical guidance, and caring support with one another.

  4. I really appreciate the wisdom in this retrospective, Sarah. It's amazing and encouraging how quickly things have changed and am praying that 2009 brings us even more awareness of how we need to transition to a whole different way of living in cooperation with the earth...

  5. Sarah,
    I resound your opinion regarding less credit card use, declining consumerism, and the need to become more self sufficient as positives.

    Underneath it all, we all do know that simplicity brings health and happiness. I find that, as a nurse, my own patients do realize this - however it is mostly those who have not created problems in the first place. I look to those very people for my own support, in hopes of paying it all forward.

    A good start for all would be taking time to volunteer in helping those less fortunate. I assure you we can learn much.

  6. Hi, Kathleen. I agree about the value that comes from "volunteering" to help others. Volunteer contributions are so undervalued in our culture. Everythinig has been monetized. We're so pressed to earn money to pay for the services we use that often there is little for giving of ourselves freely.
    That is one thing that will be changing as our spendthrift economy goes down. I believe we'll be much happier once we return to the natural flow of exchange through chosen reciprocity.
    Cheers, Sarah