Overcoming “Eco Despair”

by Rona Berg

As climate change hits hard this winter, the ramifications on physical and mental health loom large. 

According to the CDC, two thirds of people are now at higher risk for cancer due to the effects of environmental disasters like wildfires and hurricanes, and human-caused disasters like poor air quality and pesticides. Many more are suffering from what’s becoming known as “eco despair.” 

“Each of us as individuals have limited control over the big picture of global climate change,” says Dr. Julie Elledge, therapist and Founder of Mentor Agility, based in Jackson Hole, WY. “It can be overwhelming and cause existential despair.” 

Here are her wellness tips and an action plan for coping.

Power up wellness like a battery 
Nature is not just outside of you. It is inside too. Intention, attention, and the senses come together as power sources for the mind, body and spirit. Nature wakes up our natural somatic intelligence, opening new gateways into knowing ourselves.  For example, walking barefoot on the earth’s surface promotes physiological changes and wellness, including reduction of pain and inflammation and improvement in sleep, immune response, and wound healing.  Just like our computers and smart phones jump to life when they’re plugged into a power source, how we use our senses with intention and attention gives us energy like a power cord. 

Ask yourself, how can you positively impact the natural world?  
What we can control is our task on an individual level. What do you have the capacity to do? Recycling, joining an action-based group in your community, running for office, writing articles to educate the public; how can you show up in the world in a way that you’re personally prioritizing, uplifting, and supporting the natural world? Pour your energies into that. 

Unite action and purpose to create hope 
When you focus on the actions you’re taking on an individual level, that focus diminishes anxieties and ultimately puts them within your control. Now that you have the idea, take action! You’re creating hope, which is a critical antidote to despair! That is what will keep us moving forward and taking action. 

Feed your Creativity 
Humans have evolutionary reasons to seek out nature because of instinctive bonds (biophilia in scientific terms). The psychological benefits of spending time immersed in the natural world are countless, including stress reduction, heightened awareness, and boosts in endorphin and dopamine production. These experiences feed our health, imagination, and creativity, and are regenerative for anyone coping with anxiety. And remember, nature is where you find it and can access it regularly. Find your nature where it is readily available to you.

Transform your wonder list into a to-do-list 
When was the last time you sparked wonder? Just planning the trip does wonders for the soul. Making the list, booking your trip, and imagining yourself exploring new landscapes moves your attention away from stress and anxiety.

Tell a story of wonder! 
For as long as humans have mastered fire, the evidence of our ancestors expressing their experience through symbolism has been a companion. Creating psychological distance through story is a critical survival technique that also helped humans thrive. When you tell others a story, you’re spreading awareness. Make it a story of wonder, and you inspire them into action! 

Solve a problem with a story 
Story gives the mind room to play with different scenarios such as taking different perspectives and trying novel ways to solve problems without taking on the risk of failure. The science of climate change may be compelling but until the heart is engaged, action will not happen. An engaged heart is the key factor in changing our ways and storytelling is the only way to make that happen. 

Give your feelings the gift of beauty  
When words escape us, humans have found ways to bring aesthetics together with the heart to express our experiences in profound ways.  Today, as our ancestors felt thousands of years ago, nature beckons the human mind to capture our experiences in it through creative expression.

Bring nature into your home and work 
For most of human history, our close relationship with nature both challenged and supported our well-being. When we began to move our lifestyle indoors, we brought its benefits with us. Indoor plants, windows gazing upon natural landscapes, architectural design reminiscent of nature, and artwork carry Mother Nature into our indoor spaces. When we gaze upon these likenesses in our homes and at work, our heart rate slows, blood pressure lowers, and we recover faster from stress and anxiety. 

Pet your dog, or cat, or parakeet 
In these times of uncertainty and isolation, our pets become a source of comfort and support. And of course, emotional support animals are a nature coaching approach to cope with eco-despair.

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