As Sydney, Australia (our 1MW HQ home) is blanketed in smoke, our climate anxiety is high in the 1MW office. But there are steps we can all take to make sure that the climate emergency doesn’t take its toll on our mental health.
I remember the first time climate change news instilled fear and anxiety in me. I was 12 years old and my parents took me to see Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Afterwards, I felt a fear that I'd known only once before when I was 7 years old and 9/11 happened. This fear was very closely followed by anger. Anger because as a child, I was outraged that adults let this happen and fear because as a sufferer of anxiety, I had to add climate change to the list of things I was afraid of.
There have been countless studies on the psychological impacts of climate change. These impacts can be emotions that arise directly from weather events (as we are feeling right now in Australia), thinking about the future of our planet or the climate change impacts in other places. Last year, we surveyed 6500 women in partnership with ACF that showed 80% of our audience have anxiety about climate change and 33.4% said they were reconsidering having children or more children because of concern about an unsafe future from climate change.
We've found two things work to quell the anxiety. Everyone's different, but if you're feeling overwhelmed, give these tips a go.
1. Take action and live your values
This is what 1 Million Women is all about. We inspire people to turn those bad feelings into action. If you ever feel too small and the weight of the world gets to be too much, taking small actions to change your lifestyle is a tangible solution and can lessen the negative thoughts.
Reducing your carbon footprint is a coping strategy that can help you feel more optimistic and hopeful, while having a real and effective impact on getting global emissions down. Living your values in this way can help you reframe how you think about climate change by turning anxiety into action. Think about what you can do within your life. In the case of Australia right now, this could mean donating to the firefighters and those directly affected by the fires as well.
Going to a rally or a protest can connect you to a community of people who feel the exact same way. You will be surrounded by people who are already taking action and really care about the environment. This collective action can create a sense of hope and will show you that you're not the only one who cares about this. There are thousands of us, and we're all working on making the world better, together.
2. Take a break
If you already take action and this very act of being constantly informed and trying your best to do your part is wearing you down, then take a break. This doesn't mean being totally disengaged or stopping what you're doing completely. Rather, in order to carry on with our fight, we need to temporarily detach sometimes.
The news has always been overwhelming. But right now, the influx of climate change news is debilitating. To make matters worse, our attachment to our phones means that this news is essentially inescapable. According to a study called "Coping with Climate Change Distress" by the Australian Psychological Society, "keeping up with a constant stream of information doesn't actually solve the climate change problem."
So, take a break. Take the weekend offline to spend time with your family and friends, read a good fiction novel or go to a meditation class. Don't check the news once - ignorance really is bliss, and we deserve to be blissful occasionally! Don't talk about climate damage and all the bad things that are happening, or even what you should be doing about it. Or on the flip side, if that's exactly what helps you, find someone you can talk it all out and cry it out with. Binge every single season of a new addictive show (that is not about how the world ends - looking at you, Years and Years) within 24 hours. Like an introvert needs to be alone to recharge, a climate activist needs to escape every now and then to revitalise. This is an act of self-care that will allow you to carry on and further help our planet.
Most importantly, do not feel bad about taking a break. The Earth and the climate movement needs each and every one of us climate activists to be at 100%. Don't try and keep doing everything when you're at 30%.
Whatever taking a break looks like to you, do it.