The What and How of Eco-anxiety

Article by Jayasmita Das

With rapid development taking place in the world at the cost of the environment, people are challenged with anxiety and stress every day. The term “eco-anxiety” was first coined by Glenn Albrecht in the year 2005, later on, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in the year 2017, defined it as, “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. Eco-anxiety is yet to be considered as a medical condition as it is currently not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Eco-psychology states that there is a direct link between nature and human beings’ psychological as well as physical relationship. Reports state that the impacts on our environment may even lead to chronic mental disorders and health problems, for example: anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance abuse, feeling of chronic fear, helplessness etc. Eco-anxiety can be triggered from prolonged exposure of oneself or closed ones to extreme disaster conditions such as flood, wildfire, landslides, etc. ( man-made or otherwise).

The calamities stated above can be seen to have a direct link to the change or manipulation that we bring into our environment. As the world is progressing towards development at a very fast speed, and, with such rapid technological advancement we are observing how it has already affected our globe. Global warming has been a major factor for such calamities. Deforestation, industrial activities, oil drilling, increasing population and unplanned urbanization etc. contribute to the change in the environmental conditions, leading to global warming. One example would be, Delhi’s degrading air quality. It is observed that from October to December the AQI (Air Quality Index) of Delhi drastically changes from moderate to hazardous. Various reasons are attributed to the sharp decline in the air quality including stubble burning, firecrackers, pollution etc. Often it is seen that, during that period, people are highly anxious and stressed regarding themselves and their loved ones. The prolonged exposure to poor air condition in the form of smog affects both children and adults both mentally and physically. Lung disease, breathlessness, allergy are common physical problems faced by both adults and children. Mentally, it causes fear, stress, guilt and anxiety about the impact faced by them and their younger generation.

However, every person has their trigger point which causes distress as their experience might differ from situation to situation. A person who resides in Delhi will have a different type of anxiety and will feel a different kind of pressure when faced with smog than from a person who lost his/her home to flood in Assam. It is often seen that they are depressed and under constant fear of losing their house, loved ones, and property. Some people have also reported undergoing trauma.

Photo Credit: Pradyumnya Dastidar

The 2015 Nepal earthquake is another major tragic incident. It is still under the recovery phase. Many lost their loved ones to the “Gorkha earthquake”. Many were left homeless and hopeless. It not only disrupted the socio-economic structure of the country but also the mental and physical sphere of the survivor’s life. Many reports and studies conducted suggested that, many of the survivors have reported of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosomatic disorder amongst many other things.

The Baghjan gas leak (2020) in the Tinsukia district of Assam is another example that caused an enormous amount of eco-anxiety amongst the people. The blowout not only cause physical damage but emotional and environmental damage too. People affected by the blowout have been suffering from several illnesses and the trauma they went through has been quite challenging.   

The solution to the problem at hand is not simple. Although yet to be considered as a medical condition, eco-anxiety is very much prevalent amongst us. Few possible solutions can be, to understand the course of nature and developing the region accordingly. It’s high time that we follow the course of nature rather than manipulating our environment. Japan is a perfect example of development while understanding the course of nature. Japan is situated in an earthquake-prone zone, it has witnessed devastating earthquakes in the past years and almost every day people experience earthquakes. Due to this geographic disadvantage, Japan decided to develop the nation by understanding the course of nature. The buildings are earthquake resistant (structures are made of wood) and with the development in technology, many other advancements are taking place. The famous Skytree Tower is built with a mix of both the traditional method and newly developed technology, which makes it resistant to the shock of earthquakes. Such development is in sync with the environmental problems which makes the population less vulnerable to anxiety and stress.

Reconnecting with nature via various ways- meditation, joining an active group to safeguard our environment, workshops to connect with our environment and understanding the importance of our environment which we take for granted. These will help to not only guard our environment against consumerism but, will also help from further destruction and preserving for the future generation.

Acknowledging and educating the younger generation about the fears related to the environment and how one can protect it. Depending on the age group, different approaches can be adopted. For example, one can engage with environment clubs in schools, schools/colleges can conduct workshops and events, showing documentary can be of use along with a plantation drive. Acknowledging the older generations’ fear is equally important.

Disengaging from media when required, people these days are highly engaged and hooked to television sets, the internet and social media. Taking a break from the world of media will not only help to rethink, but, will also create space for new ideas to emerge. Engaging with like-minded individuals will help to reduce stress.

Prior disaster management, workshop and classes will keep individuals prepared for future occurrences, which in turn will benefit the population in dealing with the shock. Similarly, prior knowledge and measures will keep the people alert. Prior community counseling sessions can also help in controlling people’s anxiety, stress level and to be prepared for any such event.

Concluding here, although, eco-anxiety has not been considered as a medical condition. I believe it would be in our best interest to educate ourselves on the issues we face while dealing with the environment and take the necessary measures to manage eco-anxiety so that we can hope for a better future tomorrow.  

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