ELEVENTH HOUR: Managing our climate change fears

I was always a worrier in our family. I remember when I was little, I would get very scared when it was raining because of the build-up of rainwater and the occasional flooding outside of our main door. The fear would be more intense if my parents were not yet home — the feeling of worry that the heavy rains might wash them over and that they would be unable to go home.

I distinctly remember a time when I was praying and crying so hard for my father to get home from his work outside of Baguio, as I was gazing outside the window and looking at the rushing flood water from the streets. I did not know and understand climate change then, but I was aware that we were responsible for the flooding due to the cutting of trees in Baguio and the amount of waste that we generate. It was an overwhelming feeling of fear, worry, guilt, and helplessness which I recently felt again after the onslaught of severe tropical storm Paeng in the Philippines.

Eco-anxiety is characterized as the overwhelming feelings of fear and worry about the climate change impacts and the effects of extreme disasters and weather events, affecting our way of life and daily functioning. It can also be associated with feelings of guilt about our actions that impact the environment, as well as feelings of helplessness, and even hopelessness in fighting climate change.

When we celebrated National Mental Health Month last October, I asked Climate Reality Leaders (those who have completed the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training) from Luzon for tips on how to cope with eco-anxiety:

“To cope with eco-anxiety, we must accept the true purpose of our being alive. In my younger days being an orphan, I suffer a lot from anxiety and there I learned from the famous author Leo Buscaglia who says, "To accept death is to accept life and truly live." We must live each day as if it is the last and do what we can now with hope and full dedication. Remember that the state of the environment will be passed on to the next generation and doing whatever we can no matter how small is very important.

Love yourself, live life, and share that love with others and the earth.”

– David D’Angelo, 2021 Global Training

“Being in advocacy work makes us realize that climate action is a 24/7 battle. As of writing or as we speak, there is an area somewhere being devastated, species being lost, or human lives being wasted. I know that there should be something to be done but I can't set aside the fact that the negative effects our generation are experiencing is brought by decades of exploitation. There is a feeling of helplessness upon seeing businesses going on as usual without any concern for our planet. That feeling of not being enough and the pressure of setting an example adds up to an advocate's mental load.

In my journey, I came to acknowledge the validity of my feelings. It is real. It is raw. Exploring my core through meditation and reflection exercises helps me in dealing with eco-anxiety. Connecting my body and soul with nature helps me be grounded and feel deep empathy for each creature. It makes me realize the value of why this advocacy is important and relevant. As I get to meet other advocates, I also learned that we share common sentiments. Personally, the solidarity of the community that understands you ease that mental load. A strong support system helps me know that I am not alone and I have other people to depend on.

In the battle against climate change, there is no single bullet to solve all of the problems associated with it. Moreso, it is not up to a single human being to save the world. Our individual selves may seem negligible to the vast sea of problems but concerted efforts and a community of like-minded individuals can surely create ripples of change - little by little, slowly but surely.”

– Ana Michaela Reyes, 2021 Global Training

“Breathe. When things get overwhelming, it's ok to take a step back. Use what you have. You don't have to go and buy the latest eco-friendly product. Making full use of the things you have right now is perfectly fine. Baby steps. Switching and maintaining a new lifestyle doesn't have to be all or nothing. Taking baby steps is the key to sanity. Start with the little things such as bringing a packed lunch to school or work instead of always ordering or eating out, using any refillable container for your drinks, bringing your own eco-bag or container when shopping, etc.”

– Nicole Bernice Limlengco, 2021 Global Training

“One of the many issues we are facing is climate change. A climate educator like me is experiencing grief, frustrations, hopelessness, and eco-anxiety because it is overwhelming, and the feeling that everything I do is not enough to reverse or stop the effects of climate change. I am deeply affected because despite giving climate education to everyone, the impact is irrevocable. It cannot remove from my worrying about my grandchildren's and later generations' future.

Nevertheless, I am always optimistic about this and the story's brighter side. As an educator and a Climate Reality Leader, here are my best practices to cope with eco-anxiety:

  1. Simplicity Living a simple lifestyle is excellent for our health. It is beneficial to our physical and mental health. Being simple is being connected to every status of society. Seeing me like this influences people to join in my advocacy for climate justice.
  • Jesus-Centered Achiever — Waking up in the morning signifies that I am a child of God. The graces and blessings bestowed on me daily manifest His infinite love to all the creation. I am His steward and responsible for taking good care of our common home - the earth. Learning while advocating for climate justice is acquiring the knowledge and wisdom that God provides. Gained knowledge is shared.
  • Always available to serve — Always be available to others and listen to their stories. Giving a proportion of your time and talents can save lives. If we are talking and sharing our call to action to fight climate change and take care of our common home, I believe the results will be excellent.
  • Helping reduce carbon footprint emission — Encouraging everyone to review their carbon footprints is an excellent reminder that we are one joining together for the good of our society and the environment.  Limiting carbon emissions by travel, electricity consumption, and purchasing goods and food we eat is a great way to reduce them.
  • Join Online or social media platforms — Sharing our advocacy with others is a significant avenue to reach and influence people from all walks of life. Talking to friends and finding people living in the same community you live in is a great way to ease our eco-anxiety.
  • Be with nature — Staying connected with nature is very important and relaxing. It helps me value what is there and thank the Creator for what I have. I am blessed, alive, and enthusiastic.
  • Have a break and commune with nature and God — Attending retreat and recollection refreshes my mind, body, and spirit with the Lord. Feeling fresh and healthy every time I attend spiritual nourishment like these helps me cope with the problems, especially eco-anxiety.”

– Rey Sario, 2020 Global Training

“I believe that managing eco-anxiety is essential to most of us, especially in this post-pandemic era in which everything is starting to normalize. This so-called eco-anxiety has dismantled the holistic self-hood and self-identity of individuals. Given this alarming phenomenon, I want to share with you that my transformational ways of coping with this are entirely a social process and environmental aspect.

It is indeed a 360-degree turning point on my end that I have converted my eco-anxiety narratives such as low self-esteem, workplace burnout, online fatigue, and even socio-environment conflict into a real-life and positive approach.

First, hashtag #EPlantito, I realized that online detoxification activities during the pandemic such as gardening, planting trees, or other climate justice project initiatives that foster a sense of interconnectedness with our nature are truly an antidote and beneficial to people with “Eco-anxiety” like me. Certainly, it has increased my human capital in becoming a well-crafted “plantito.”

Second, hashtag #Ekonek, it is important to note that connecting and interacting with like-minded people is helpful to combat distress, isolation, and other negative emotions. For instance, my continuous engagement with Climate Reality Project PH increased my social capital. I have found my team, networks, and support system that will guide me in participating in climate change initiatives. Climate Reality Leaders are all friendly and supportive in curing my eco-anxiety lived experiences.

Lastly, hashtag #EAksyon. It is significantly helpful to a person with “Eco-anxiety” to be involved with any civil society organization that advocates against climate change as a great way to alleviate “Eco-anxiety” emotions.

I hope that any of these three essential hashtags (#EPlantito; #EKonek and #EAksyon) could help remove the feelings of helplessness that fuel eco-anxiety. Stay hopeful! #Laban.”

– Theo Viray, 2021 Global Training

As the effects of climate change are getting more intense and more evident, especially in climate-vulnerable countries such as the Philippines, it’s expected that more cases of eco-anxiety would be experienced, particularly by the youth. It is critical to equip ourselves with as much information to learn about this and find ways how to effectively cope and still hope.

About the author:

Aimee Oliveros is a human resources professional with over 10 years of corporate work experience in different local and multinational industries. She became a Climate Reality Leader in 2020 and is now serving as the Engagement Lead and Luzon Coordinator of Climate Reality Philippines. Being an advocate for the environment, she co-founded RE-Store MNL, a small shop promoting refill and reuse in Parañaque City. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences at the University of the Philippines Baguio.