How Quarantine Levelled up my Eco-Anxiety

I felt Eco-anxiety before but I didn’t know it had a name. Until Covid-19 arrived and I found myself stuck at home with enough time to learn about it.

Standing in the Pulpit Rock, Norway — Photo by Barbara Marques

Over the last two years, we have seen young people missing school to fight for a better future, demanding change from the politicians that run their countries. We have heard 15-year-old Greta Thunberg’s speeches on how she can’t find the motivation to go to school to have a future when that future is so uncertain that she prefers to fight for it. Climate change is real and it is bringing to our realities events and feelings that were until then unknown — one of them is Eco Anxiety.

Do you know that feeling when you are watching the news and find out that another hurricane destroyed a village? When you go outside and it is snowing when in your town it has never snowed before? When you realize that summers are getting warmer and winters getting colder? That feeling when you can see the world changing due to climate change and you feel there is nothing you can do to fix it; that no matter how much water you save, how much you switch off your lights or refuse to drive your car every day… It is called Eco-Anxiety! And just know that, if you are experiencing it, you are not alone.

I currently live in Portugal, the small sunny country in the corner of Europe. But Portugal is not only sun, beautiful beaches and good food. Because of it’s location, this country is in risk of water shortage until 2040. This means that we — that are used to water abundance — may have to live with 25 liters of water, per day, per person. Currently, each person is known to use around 187 liters of water per day. According to the UN, a human being needs 110 liters of water per day to live decently.

This was the data that made me feel eco-anxious for the very first time. I grew up swimming in the river, playing around with water in the garden with my sister on hot days, and thinking of water as a infinite resource.

But what exactly is Eco-Anxiety after all?

The American Psychology Association (APA) describes eco-anxiety as:

“The chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one’s future and that of next generations”

It is not yet considered a disease and is usually not followed as clinical anxiety is. However, it may bring up mental health diseases such as depression, post traumatic stress, etc. In addition, with environmental disasters associated with climate change happening more and more often, an increasing number of people experience it. Me being one of them.

Photo by Milica Spasojevic on Unsplash

Being in lockdown due to the Corona Virus pandemic and after losing my job, I found myself — an outdoors person that loves being in nature all the time — stuck at my small apartment for months. I started to dive into my books as a way to escape but soon realized that what I was reading was actually bringing my eco-anxiety levels up instead.

I started with the book “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis” by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. A book that gives us two possible scenarios, both in 2050: the world we are creating, where we will live if we don’t do anything about our CO2 emissions and our way of taking from Earth more than what she can give to us; and the world we want to create, where all living beings can live safely, a green and sustainable world. Both scenarios are not perfect, but one is obviously more positive. After, I read “A life on our planet” by David Attenborough. More focused on the world’s biodiversity but still showing us how humans have been affecting the planet, and giving us different scenarios on how the world may turn out if we don’t change our behavior.

Everytime I think about the future, I imagine a distant time that we will only see in a long time. But the future is actually next week, tomorrow… even tonight! I know how climate change can impact our lives on Earth in the future, but reading these books made me realize how close this future is. I start to do the math — “by then I will be only 30”, “when this happens I will be 50” — and I start to stress about it. Wanting to raise even more awareness, wanting to make my boyfriend watch all these documentaries about what we have to do to save the world, sending whatsapp messages to my parents asking them to cut down meat consumption, calling my sister and telling her to get an electric bike, sharing facts and figures on social media for people to understand what we really are doing to our home… and in the end of the day I feel exhausted because I feel like none of that was enough and that I am fighting alone.

What to do with all your Eco-Anxiety?

  • Go outside

Nature truly heals. Go for a walk on the beach and stop to hear the waves come and go; Sit on a green park, on a bench or even on the grass, and write what you are feeling or draw what is around you; Visit your city’s botanical garden and learn about the different plants and flowers. Nature’s colors and smells are natural tranquilizers, feeling them is a good way to feel stronger and more positive.

  • Share what you are feeling

When we feel lonely it is hard to process some feelings and information. That is why it is so important to share what is going through our minds when we start to feel anxious. A family member, friend or a counselor… Nothing like listening to a “I know how you feel”.

  • Don’t spend every minute on social media or watching the news

Constantly seeing images of environmental disasters, how the human behavior is affecting the planet, young people missing school to protest, refugees trying to arrive to safe land, … it can be overwhelming! Take a few breaks from the screens, read a fiction book, make art, listen to music. Distract your self with something that you love and fuel your mind with positive thoughts so that, when you go back to action, you have the mental strength for it. Also make sure that the news and facts that are making you anxious are actually true! Unfortunatelly there is a lot of clickbait and false news online that we end up worrying about.

  • Change at your pace

I know it can be overwhelming to want to save the world and not being able to change everything on our day to day. Anne-Marie Bonneau said that “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” and I feel that this quote is also useful in this case. Don’t stop doing what you are doing just because you feel like it isn’t enough. Every action counts and yours are precious!

Photo by John Mark Arnold on Unsplash

Don’t feel silly if you experience Eco-Anxiety! We are experiencing devastating events and situations due to climate change, never seen before. It is more than normal to feel overwhelmed.

What do I do when my Eco-Anxiety starts striking? I let the feelings come and try to calm them down doing one of the above, usually I run away to the closest forest or city garden. Now that we are in lockdown, I sit on my balcony and do some journaling. When I feel more positive, I look for ways to make a difference — volunteering, changes I can implement in my life and in my community — and keep reminding myself that, together, we will be able to make a difference.

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Grew up writing stories about fairies and magic. Now a Sustainable Development student, adventurer, nature lover, and imperfect activist.

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Barbara Martins Marques

Barbara Martins Marques

Grew up writing stories about fairies and magic. Now a Sustainable Development student, adventurer, nature lover, and imperfect activist.

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