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Green Is The New Black

Tackling Eco-anxiety—what is it and how to talk about it to our friends and colleagues

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eco anxiety at work

No longer just relegated to far-flung tales of stranded polar bears and melting ice caps, we are starting to see the irreversible effects of climate change more clearly than ever. In addition, climate education, reporting and activism has been becoming more mainstream and continues to bring important global issues to the surface. Unsurprisingly, as our knowledge and awareness has increased, so have cases of eco-anxiety. But how can we talk about it eco-anxiety at work and with our friends? Let’s dive in. 

 

What is eco-anxiety? 

Broadly, it is a chronic fear of environmental doom—towards the impacts of climate change, global ecological disaster, or specific extreme weather events. Psychology Today defines it as a “fairly recent psychological disorder affecting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis.” 

Though eco-anxiety isn’t a recognised medical condition, it has the same characteristics as general anxiety, and can usually be treated in a similar manner if symptoms persist. A Guardian article in 2020 stated that among child and adolescent psychiatrists in England, 57.3% had seen patients distressed about environmental and ecological issues. This number would have bound to have increased during the last 2 years, as COVID-19 has taken its toll on communities and exposed further climate injustices. The IPCC’s AR6 Climate Change 2021 report indicates that instead of getting better, global warming is getting worse and is unavoidable. It’s no surprise that more people are feeling desperate and anxious about the state of our planet, its animals and our communities. 

 

What can we do? 

Fortunately—and I speak from personal experience—there are ways that we can channel our emotions for positive and inspired action, which are both beneficial for the planet and our wellbeing. As Greta Thunberg said, “no one is too small to make a difference,”—you never know how far your sphere of influence will extend to, and who it might impact. Read on to find some ways to start this conversation, spread awareness and be part of the collective change with our friends and colleagues. 

 

How can we talk about it with friends, and what can we do together? 

Look, let’s be honest— talking about any anxieties with friends is hard. Especially in relation to the climate, some of our friends may already be feeling overwhelmed with the daily drone of bad news or be feeling anxious about their futures too. Here’s how you can talk about it with friends, while also creating an opportunity for impact.

Acknowledge eco-guilt: it’s not all or nothing

Eco-guilt is the guilt that arises when we feel self-reproach for when we’ve done something bad for the planet, by not meeting our personal or societal standards for eco-friendly behaviour.  First, start by addressing these feelings—start by speaking about slip-ups and acknowledge that our mental health and well-being comes first, and we shouldn’t feel guilty when we’ve “failed”—sometimes life just gets in the way. Acknowledge that it isn’t a failure if we forget to bring our cup or meet the expected eco-friendly behaviour—as @zerowastechef Anne-Marie Bonneau says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Making consistent choices to be conscious consumers is more impactful than getting everything right all the time.

Nurture your sustainable habits together 

Choose a sustainable action that you can do together, like avoiding e-commerce on promotional days or, instead, buying gifts from local artists. Whether it’s starting a sustainable book club, doing beach clean-ups together, or clothes swapping, there are a variety of different activities you can do as a group. Simply knowing that you are not going through it alone can help progress – consider daily affirmations and encouragements in a group chat.. Doing it together creates accountability, which can slowly become a habit. If you’re comfortable, invite other friends, who may not be so eco-conscious, to join in on this journey too. 

Engage with nature and green spaces

Scheduling meetups outdoors is a great opportunity to reconnect with nature and appreciate the interconnectedness of our species. Whether having a picnic in the park, or a group walk, it gives us a good chance to reset our minds and keeps us grounded. 

Aside from the positive mental health effects that engaging directly with nature has, it can also make us more inspired to rethink aspects of our life that directly impact nature and its wildlife—for instance, aside from getting involved in conservation projects in the area, we can also rethink our commute to involve more walking or biking. As we get to know the natural world around us, we become more inspired to protect it. 

 

How do we broach eco-anxiety at work with our colleagues and make an impact?

You and some fellow colleagues may be feeling at a loss – the sustainable habits that you were able to cultivate while working from home are far less doable at the office, and it may be leaving them (and you) feeling guilty and anxious all at once. Here’s how you can broach this topic with colleagues while channelling anxieties into impact at the workplace. 

Start with the lunch hour 

As we come back into the office and re-find our footing and recreate routines again, this is a good chance to start implementing new habits into our new routines. Let them know that the pandemic and lockdown has given you some inspiration to act more sustainably, even with small habits. As the lunch hour is usually when you have the most direct engagement with your colleagues, encourage sustainable nudging during this time, for instance, bringing out BYO cups to get your post-lunch coffee, using your own cutlery and refusing plastic ones, and trying new plant-based options. 

Be a conscious colleague

Whether it’s by choosing more plant-based meals, BYO-ing, or proudly wearing swapped or secondhand items into the workplace, we let our colleagues know that this is a choice we’ve made and invite them to ask us questions. If you’re comfortable, take it one step further and stash some extra reusables in the office to lend out to your colleagues—keeping in mind health and safety during these times, of course! 

Utilise your office network to find your people – start a green group 

Ask your internal CSR or talent teams if you can start a green group—together, your group can organise office-wide activities. For instance, if you work in a business district, work together to find nearby cafes or restaurants that give a BYO discount and circulate that list to the rest of the office. Or work together to implement a clothes recycling or swapping drive in your lunch hour. Or work with your managers or HR team to find budget to commission local activists to do a talk or workshop for the company. Aside from gathering like-minded people together to enact change, these are also exciting activities that the whole office can get involved in. 

 

Other sources of inspiration

For more inspiration on how to tackle eco-anxiety and make a collective impact, Eco-Anxious Stories is a creative platform that explores climate-related emotions and acts as a space for the climate anxious to share stories and resources, including this infographic on how to navigate eco-anxiety as an individual or a group. 

For those looking for resources on how to run a climate support group, The Good Grief Network, a peer-to-peer support network for climate anxiety and grief, is a great place to start. 

If you’re keen readers, you and your group might want to start a  Circle– a self-organised club committed to reading and discussing All We Can Save, an anthology by 60 women leading the climate movement. 

Finally, take a look at the Climate Journal Project– an online space that uses reflection and writing for the eco-anxious to heal together. Their Instagram page is a great way to start off with journal prompts for you and your group. 

 

Creating impactful change through our anxiety

Greta Thunberg, who has also experienced climate anxiety, has said that it’s a natural response to what the world is going through now. But she also has words of encouragement and hope—“When you take action, you also get a sense of meaning that something is happening. If you want to get rid of that anxiety, you can take action against it.” 

Giving our eco-anxiety room to flourish is never a good thing for our or the planet’s wellbeing. Instead, turning our unease and apprehension on its head and having it become an impetus for collective action is a powerful form of empowerment and change. It gives us a direction to channel our negative energy into and gives us an opportunity to do what we can for our planet and for our wellbeing. It reminds us that we all have a part to play in creating a better future.

 

Featured image: Markus Spiske via Unsplash | Image Description: an upcycled sign at a protest that shows a cartoon of a figure buying a fish saying “can I have a plastic bag please”, to which the seller of the fish replies “it’s in the fish, sir”. 

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Born in Singapore and raised across metropolises, Kay has had the unique opportunity of seeing the sustainability movement grow and flourish in many places before it arrived in Singapore. Since coming back from the UK, she has worked in both the NGO and corporate worlds, and now daylights as an ESG & sustainability strategy professional. A wellness and conscious lifestyle enthusiast-- she has always believed that sustainability and conscious living go hand in hand-- she is happy to explain the benefits of both to any takers. Kay covers culture, fashion, lifestyle, travel, food and wellness, and is looking for the most ethical tea brand to enjoy a strong, guilt-free cuppa.

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