We are an anxious bunch, we humans. We spend a lot of our time worrying about things that haven’t even happened, yet. But, lately I understand why. We have a lot to consider, what with hurricanes, bushfires, and pandemics... the world is in disarray. So how do we cope?
Humans Are No Strangers to Natural Disasters.
In 2019, Australia - my homeland - had bushfires rip through the entire country, almost obliterating some of the native species. 210 days, 478 deaths, and 46 million acres later, an estimated one billion animals perished in those fires almost two years ago.
For a small population of less than 30 million people, the country couldn’t cope with the sheer mass of the fires. The firefighters were at capacity, and were working round the clock for months on end, completely exhausted and with no end to the fires in sight. After months of fighting the fires, the US threw us a lifeboat, and sent more than 100 of their firefighters to help save what was left of the Australian landscape.
The last of the fires were able to be controlled around the end of February, 2020. We were only just beginning to process what had happened, and the smoke had barely even cleared from the air, when we received the news of this super virus that had begun it’s spread across the globe.
Just as the pandemic was revving up, I had moved to the US (great timing, by the way). California was then belted with the same fate Australia had faced only a few months earlier. On a smaller scale, but no less devastating. 4.5 millions acres of land burnt to the ground. Homes destroyed. Animals wiped out.
It wasn’t just fires we were dealt in 2020, either. Here are just a handful of the deadliest events:
- Indonesia had a typhoon that killed 42 people;
- Indonesia then had flooding that killed another 66;
- The Philippines had a volcano erupt, killing 39;
- Turkey had an earthquake that killed 41 people;
- Then an earthquake-tsunami killed 117 in Turkey and Greece;
- The Dominican Republic and Haiti had 77 people killed by a hurricane;
- India and Bangladesh were hit with a cyclone that killed more than 85 people;
- Afghanistan lost 150 people in flash flooding; and,
- The same amount of people in Central America died from Hurricane Eta.
Oh, and let’s not forget that pesky pandemic, which has taken over 3.3 million people, globally.
I’d Like to Speak to the Manager of Earth, Please.
The fires in Australia have really stuck in my mind. I guess it’s because they were so close to home - I literally lived and breathed it. We had to wear filtered face mask just to breathe. But even with all of Australia’s resources fighting the fires with all that they had, the fires couldn’t be contained - for 210 days!
Those months of bushfires gave me a glimpse into a world where, should we decide not to do anything about climate change, a global catastrophe that wipes us all out is an imminent possibility.
The way I see it is, when Mother Earth has had enough of us using and abusing her, taking everything from her and giving nothing back, all she has to do is set off a few devastating natural disasters and we’ll no longer be her problem. Like a dog shaking off fleas.
And that, my friends, is what I call "environmental anxiety".
Caring Causes Colossal Concern.
My whole life, I’ve always thought of myself as an environmentalist at heart. But when you care that much about something, it’s usually met with some form of anxiety. Over the years, my environmental anxiety would come and go, with various incidents.
It was at its peak during the bushfires in Australia - and lasted for months. But it also rears its ugly head in other ways, on a regular basis. Especially now that climate change is such a hot topic. Let me know if you can relate to any of these scenarios:
I would stand in the honey aisle, deliberating over the selection, and then find myself stressed-out about the future of bees. I remember reading an article that said we need the bees or we’ll all die.
I’d eat every last scrap of food off my dinner plate til my stomach was bursting, because I remember watching a documentary on food waste. The guilt of not eating it all made me feel worse than being too full.
Watching Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy is like watching the scariest horror films of all time. The only difference is that sleeping with the lights on does nothing to ease my terror.
An Emotional Burden.
“More than two-thirds of Americans (67%) are somewhat or extremely anxious about the impact of climate change on the planet, and more than half (55%*) are somewhat or extremely anxious about the impact of climate change on their own mental health…” American Psychiatric Association, October 2020.
Raise your hand if you’re in those statistics ✋🏽.
It isn’t sustainable to live life in a state of anxiety. Stress can cause a plethora of health issues, particularly if it is long-term. So because our environment is not going to be fixed overnight - it’s going to take years - we really need to look at ways to manage our environmental anxiety.
Here Are Some Things Stress Can Affect:
- Weight: being stressed-out for longer periods can cause your cortisol levels to rise. Some of us tend to eat more when we are stressed, too, which is why we sometimes gain weight under stressful times. In addition to gaining weight, stress can also cause weight to gain in the abdominal area. This is called “toxic fat”, as abdominal fat deposition is linked to cardiovascular disease;
- Immunity: chronic stress can cause your immune system to shut down;
- Digestion: when we are nervous, our stomach can feel like it is “turning”. Stress can affect our nervous system in a very similar way. If you are stressed-out all the time, your digestion is going to become affected;
- Reproduction: much like our digestive system can get affected, so can our reproductive system;
- Skin: psoriasis, eczema, acne breakouts, cold sores, and any other skin conditions you are prone to can flare up during stressful periods;
- Autoimmune disease: often stress can be the catalyst for many autoimmune diseases.
- Body: muscle and joint pain can occur when we are stressed. Often we are tensing up our bodies from stress and don’t even realize it.
- Sleep: our sleep patterns get disrupted when we are stressed-out, and we can end up grinding our teeth, which then can cause jaw and dental issues; and,
- Depression: this goes hand-in-hand with stress and anxiety.
We must listen to our bodies, at what it's telling us. How many of these symptoms do you have on a regular basis?
Ways to Manage Your Stress So Your Health Doesn’t Decline.
It can feel like a mammoth-task, tackling your anxiety. But, like a diet that sticks, you just have to do it gradually. I’ve put together a list of baby steps you can take to help you tackle your environmental worries:
Acknowledge that you are anxious about our environment. Accept that you are overwhelmed at the challenges we are all facing. Recognize how you feel.
Realize that you are not alone. The majority of us feel the same way, but everyone handles it in their own way. Some people are just as anxious as you are, and handle it the same way as you do. Other people are burying their heads in the sand. We cannot control how other people are reacting to things around us, all we can do is control how we react.
Start with meditation anytime you feel overwhelmed or anxious. Meditation can be as simple as taking 10 deep breaths with your eyes closed. Take a bubble bath. Or you can sit for an hour with candles and incense burning, playing some calming music. The point is to stop your mind from racing, slow your breath, and try to relax.
Talk to someone about how you feel. Talking about something that is affecting you will take away its power over you, and put it into perspective. We can’t read the label from inside the jar, sometimes we need an outsider to give us their two cents.
Join communities of aligned folks. Bolger, Zuckerman & Kessler state that having a sense of connectedness to a group can help you to feel happier – and it also acts as a buffer for both mental and physical health problems. Facebook groups are great to build a network of like-minded people. Just be careful not to surround yourself with doomsday conspiracy theorists. Look for positive influences and people who are being proactive in this space - like people who clean up the beaches on the weekends, or sustainability warriors.
Make small changes in your habits that are more ethical or environmentally friendly that are easy to maintain that will make you feel better. It can be as simple as:
- Buying a compost bin for your kitchen;
- Signing up for Terracycle®;
- Buy more ethical skincare products; or,
- Meal prep your lunches to reduce food waste.
Become an influencer in this space. Educating others on their impact, and how they can make small changes in their own lives to help the planet. This will make you feel good for spreading awareness, and help to reduce your anxiety.
Do not read or watch things that spike your anxiety. It’s good to stay aware of things going on, but not to the detriment of your mental health. If you find your mental state declines after watching Planet Earth on Netflix, then don’t watch it. In my opinion, the type of person who needs to watch a documentary like that are those who are completely unaware, or ignorant to the fact. You, my anxious little friend, are anything but.
Last of all - be kind to yourself. This isn’t going to be fixed overnight, and you certainly can’t fix it no matter how eco-friendly your home is. But feeling guilty about it will only exacerbate your anxiety. What you can do is make small changes, and influence others to be better.
Here are a couple of online environmental communities you can check out:
Care2 - the world’s largest community for good, where you’ll find over 45 million like-minded people working towards progress, kindness, and lasting impact.
Green Wiki - an online community where you can be hands-on in helping them build awareness through online projects,
Or try out a free Facebook Group:
You’ve got this.
“We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” - Anne-Marie Bonneau.
All of the brands Fait avec Coeur promote are vegan and cruelty-free, sustainably and ethically sourced and made, and are manufactured using low-waste or plastic-free packaging.
Emma Masotti is an Australian now living in Austin, TX, and has been a trained esthetician for over 15 years. She is a sustainable skincare writer, educating and building awareness around proper skin health that doesn’t cost the earth.
Some of the products promoted in our blog are from our online store. Many others are brands we have researched and found to be great examples of sustainable, ethical, and innovative brands in their field, and we don't make any profit from mentioning them in our blog. #CollaborationOverCompetition