Tips for eco-anxious sustainability professionals
April 19, 2022
By Trish Kenlon
Originally published on LinkedIn last summer during devastating wildfires in many parts of North America; reposted with permission.
Last night I woke up around 2 am because our house reeked of smoke. It smelled as if someone had built a bonfire right on our back porch. I wish I could say that I was alarmed and ran around the house to ensure that nothing was on fire, but this has become such a common occurrence that I just went about closing all the windows and went back to sleep, or tried to at least. It's hard to sleep when you're worried if all this repeated, intense smoke inhalation will impact your asthmatic child's ability to breathe.
Unfortunately, as someone who has dedicated my career to the fight against climate change, eco-anxiety is nothing new to me. Sadly, it’s also not unique to me; it's one of the most frequently mentioned challenges of working in sustainability that I hear when I interview professionals in the space (second only to working too hard because we all care so much).
Have you ever felt like this?
I recently listened to a fantastic episode of Sustainability Defined with Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a General and Forensic Psychiatrist and the Co-Founder of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance.
It felt so great to have these feelings validated and to hear some concrete steps for managing eco-anxiety that I thought I'd share some of the key points from the episode in the hopes that they could help you or someone you care about:
What is eco-anxiety, exactly?
Eco-anxiety refers to feelings of helplessness, anger, insomnia, panic, or guilt toward the climate and ecological crisis. It's not wrong, it's a reasonable and healthy response to an existential threat.
6 tips for managing eco-anxiety
- Get involved with like-minded groups and make connections that develop your sense of community.
- Foster a stronger connection with nature: spend more time outdoors or keep a rock, flower, or other natural object that you can look at and touch when feeling disconnected or overwhelmed.
- Stay informed, but recognize when it's time to disengage. Reevaluate your sources of environmental information, set limits for your screen time, and cut back or unplug whenever possible.
- Make sure you're balancing the doom and gloom with some magic and hope. Stay abreast of new, potentially game-changing solutions under development.
- Take action in a way that is meaningful for you, like volunteering at a climate-focused nonprofit or getting involved in political advocacy.
- If you have anxiety that does not respond to at-home management tips, talk to your doctor about how to connect with an appropriate mental health professional.
As usual, Scott Breen and Jay Siegel provide an incredible overview of the situation complete with insightful personal stories, the best-worst jokes, and helpful details for learning more.
Trish Kenlon coaches Virginia Tech students on effective resume development. She is the founder of Sustainable Career Pathways, a popular website and sustainability career coaching service. Her practice focuses on helping graduate students and mid-career professionals with transitioning into roles in the sustainability space. She is a frequent contributor of career expertise to the Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps community, and has been featured on several podcasts, including "Sustainability Defined" and "Degrees” with Yesh Pavlik Slenk.