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How Ecoanxiety Affects Moms and 3 Ways to Cope

ecoanxiety nature therapy Dec 06, 2021

 

INTRO

Your mental health is both personal and planetary.

 

While we may not be used to opening to the planetary aspects of our mental health… we're all still being affected by it. It's like unknowingly eating something that sparks your food allergy. You're still going to feel the effects even if you can't immediately identify the cause. 

 

Eco-anxiety and eco-fear are rising challenges to maternal mental health and wellness. The environment affects us, and we affect our environment. The ways we care for — or don't care for — this connection can both help and hurt us. 

 

ECO-ANXIETY AND ECO-FEAR

Eco-anxiety and eco-fear refer to a human emotional and psychological response to climate change and its ever-increasing effects (https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/03/mental-health-climate.pdf). 

 

I prefer to use the term eco-fear because this term doesn't pathologize a very healthy response to our planetary crisis. Instead, eco-fear places the problem that needs to be addressed externally on our unnatural modern way of living that harms people and the planet.

 

Regardless of the label, though, this reaction to climate- and environmental- distress could be affecting your health and wellbeing. Here are some ways to combat it: 

 

CONNECTION

To help my clients manage their eco-fear, I often prescribe a "nature fix." A nature fix means spending more time outside to remember ourselves as part of the natural world rather than apart from nature.

 

Extensive research supports that time in nature can alleviate anxiety, depression, attention issues, even boost overall immunity and health (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28796634/). The data is also showing that the effects last well past the time we come inside, some studies suggesting 30 days (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997467/). Moving your animal body in its natural and evolutionary environment has a regulatory effect on your nervous system. Your nervous system is the part of you that feels out of harmony when you're experiencing a fear response and chronic stress (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981243/).

 

However, the "why" of research is much more complicated than the "how" of practice. All you need to do is go outside to get the benefits. Feel the swift wind on your skin, the hot sun on your face, feel the solid earth beneath your feet, the cool dirt between your fingers, the smell of the trees in your nose. When it's time to go back inside, you may be feeling a lot better, and those effects can last quite a good while.

 

COCREATE 

Some ideas for getting outside to connect daily include doing something one loves and experiences as pleasurable. For instance, I love expressing myself through art, so I offer nature-centered expressive activities for clients (often with their families). These invitations to create a piece of impermanent art (nature weaving, circle sculptures, natural collage, etc.) can help us experience the liveliness of more-than-human beings.

 

In as little as 10 minutes, we can utilize the imaginal qualities of our creativity to feel, experience, and think about nature differently. Creating in nature has the powerful benefit of helping us experience nature differently from our accustomed patterns in a culture that sees more-than-human beings as "dead matter." Although we've been led to believe that nature is passive, cocreating can teach us differently. Experiencing trees, birds, and rocks as active agents in the art can help expand our understanding of community, feel belonging within a place, and balance the news and reports that emphasize the fragility of nature rather than nature's (and ours as a part of nature) resilience.

 

ADVOCACY

I also invite clients to create an eco-action plan with their families. We can feel more empowered by taking specific, measurable steps to be a better ally for their natural relatives in the more-than-human world. Making an action plan can include picking one issue that resonates with family members and then mapping out steps to affect positive change in that area. These positive actions can consist of researching good environmental practices, taking steps to implement them daily, and even educating others about these practices and their benefits. 

 

An eco-action plan can help people of all ages move from a place of courageous love for the natural environment to inspire hope. Creating one can help us create more reciprocal relationships with the natural world, view environmental problems as solvable, place the problems in a wider (but more manageable context), and make concrete goals for change and move forward with them.

 

CONCLUSION

Eco-fear is a very healthy response to the environmental issues we face on a planetary scale. Mental health is both personal and planetary. This interconnection is why our entire ecosystem benefits when we learn and practice ways to manage this fear and chronic anxiety in a way that keeps us moving towards balanced wellness. 

 

CITATIONS

 

Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.

 

Ewert, A., & Chang, Y. (2018). Levels of Nature and Stress Response. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland)8(5), 49. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs8050049 

 

Frumkin, H., Bratman, G. N., Breslow, S. J., Cochran, B., Kahn, P. H., Jr, Lawler, J. J., Levin, P. S., Tandon, P. S., Varanasi, U., Wolf, K. L., & Wood, S. A. (2017). Nature Contact and Human Health: A Research Agenda. Environmental health perspectives, 125(7), 075001. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP1663

 

Song, C., Ikei, H., & Miyazaki, Y. (2016). Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan. International journal of environmental research and public health, 13(8), 781. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph13080781

 

 

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