Understanding eco-anxiety: What is the growing phenomenon and who is it affecting? 

Words by Flora Hutchison with art by Jenna Bornstein

By now you may have heard the term ‘eco-anxiety’ floating around. Eco-anxiety describes the fear of environmental doom, and while not yet viewed as a diagnosable disorder, it is becoming more widely recognised by psychiatrists as a serious issue that could have long lasting impact on people’s mental health, particularly prevalent among the younger generation. It comes as no surprise that the youth would be the ones most susceptible to this anxiety – lest we forget that ‘Fridays for Future’ is an entirely student-led movement, and dear Greta became our fearless leader at only 16. As the youth, not only are we the most aware and sensitised to the impending doom of the climate emergency, we are also so often faced with the adversity and discouragement of climate deniers, or on a much more mundane level, the large proportion of people who are simply not taking our situation seriously enough. Not to mention the lack of faith and despair most of us hold in our governmental leaders; Liz Truss using her role to abandon solar panels because ‘they’re ugly’ or investing in new fracking trade deals doesn’t exactly fill one’s heart with hope for the urgent actions that need to be taken by the people in power to combat the looming increase in planetary temperature.  

Unfortunately, the problem with eco-anxiety compared to other forms of diagnosable anxiety is that it is often rational, the facts are in front of us and we can be confronted with quite a bleak outcome, especially when we lack faith in the large corporations and governments who could be the real catalysts of change, if they put their minds to it- meaning our anxieties are not completely unfounded. 

But let’s not get too caught up in the negative. Yes, there are reasons to feel anxious about the state of the environment, but there are ways to help alleviate these fears and anxieties. Despite the doubt that looms over us, there is also opportunity for hope; speaking from personal experience, any steps that I could take towards educating myself and committing myself to helping the cause allows me to feel some hope. I frequently find myself explaining my choices for eating plant-based, or why I take a 7-hour train home instead of a domestic flight; and funnily enough it’s these conversations that make me feel most hopeful. So many people (including myself) just aren’t armed with the facts. Nowadays, with the thousands of different information outlets we are confronted with on the internet it is so hard to find reliably sourced information. It is through these conversations that I do not shove my ideals down people’s throats, despite what the far-right middle-aged men would assume, but that I educate people and have open discussions about how we can all take steps to contribute and do better. I know that I still have a lot to learn, and I accept that no one can live a truly perfect sustainable life, but I can ease my anxiety by doing what I can as a an individual and using my knowledge to try to spread awareness to others and reminding myself that even the smallest triumphs affect our cause.  

If you’re feeling down or a sense of doom, try and find something to contribute to today: if you’re in St Andrews, consider signing up for UnEarth, or StandReUse, or any of the eco – focused groups we have here. And remember, there is still hope!  

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