Living

6 Things I’m Doing To Calm My Climate Anxiety

I've found that I handle it better when I know I'm doing my best to live a more sustainable life. Here's what's helped me—and might help you, too.

Climate change protestors hold their placards high, with a sign reading NO PLanet B in the foreground

(Photo: iStock)

Every few months, headlines announce the latest natural disaster occurring somewhere in the world. When I was a kid in the early 2000s, hurricanes and wildfires didn’t seem to happen all that often. But as we approach the 2030s, when the Earth could exceed the 1.5 C warming limit, extreme weather events will become more frequent.

I’ve always been anxious about the climate crisis; I remember worrying about the future of the planet when I was in elementary school. But this summer in particular, my social media feed was flooded with news and pictures that spiked my anxiety and sense of doom.

In July, a fire blazed on the Gulf of Mexico because of a ruptured underwater oil pipeline. Across the Atlantic, extreme floods in Western Europe killed more than 200 people and destroyed homes, bridges and cellphone towers. Then in August, the sky across B.C.—where I live—turned bright orange during the day and night because of wildfires, while the sun in Ontario shone an angry red for the same reason.

It’s also difficult to quell doomsday thoughts when every instalment of the IPCC report reveals the severity of climate change, even if there’s time to fix some of the damage.

While it’s great to embrace feelings of fear and worry (wise words from my therapist), I’ve grown tired of cycling between feelings of helplessness about the state of the world and resentment towards the politicians who aren’t doing enough.

Trying to live a more sustainable life may be self-serving but it’s the only “solution” that calms my climate anxiety. And if I’ve learned anything from therapy, it’s that I need to focus on the things I can control.

I still deal with an overwhelming sense of doom. But personally, it’s easier for me to deal with it when I know I’m doing my best to live a more sustainable life. Here are some changes I’ve made that have helped quell my anxiety—and might do the same for yours, too.

Out with impulse, in with intention

Yes, industry and government need to be held accountable for their massive environmental footprints, but one change I’ve made in my life that has made me feel less enviro-anxious is being more intentional with what I buy. For example, I try to buy my clothes second-hand, whether it’s from Poshmark, Depop or the thrift store. If I don’t, I make sure to purchase investment pieces that will last me a long time and aren’t fast fashion. The less textile waste I contribute, the better I feel.

In the past few months, I also switched over to buying fresh produce without plastic packaging. I used to put my veggies in plastic bags at the grocery store. But after feeling fed up with the excess plastic as well as the guilt, I now use my tote bag as a produce bag (the veggies will get washed anyway).

Say goodbye to single-use goods, and hello to reusable ones

I clean when I feel anxious. It’s a great de-stressor, except when I started to realize how many paper towel rolls I was going through in a week. My guilt led me to seek out reusable alternatives, like microfibre cloths and reusable Swiffer pads. Now, a pack of six paper towel rolls will last me three months, sometimes more.

Read books about Indigenous knowledge and its role in climate action

When we’re thinking about climate action, it is essential to stay informed with the work Indigenous communities have and are doing because the environment has always been the backbone of Indigenous culture.

As author Robin Wall Kimmerer argues throughout her 2013 book Braiding Sweetgrass, Western science needs to rely on Indigenous knowledge to find solutions to this climate crisis because “to love a place is not enough. We must find ways to heal it.”

For example, Kimmerer refers to ecosystems as services and natural resources as gifts. In other words, we need to stop viewing the earth and its goods as commodities but instead, as gifts that we accept with empathy. This lesson might look different in practice for everybody. My interpretation involves being cautious of how much water I use in the shower, and not wasting food.

Share your anxiety

In the past, I never shared my climate change concerns with my therapist. But when the ocean caught on fire and Twitter only fuelled my grief, I knew I needed to start talking about about it. My therapist didn’t say anything in particular to reduce my anxiety, but for me, it was enough that she listened to my worries and validated my fears for the future.

Buy a plant

I never used to be a big plant person, but there’s something therapeutic about having a routine related to nature, like a weekly watering schedule. While I can’t say I’ve been able to keep all my plants alive, I find the act itself similar to meditation.

Join a local, climate-action initiative (or stay up to date on what they’re doing).

Let me repeat: Industry and governments must be held accountable to create meaningful change. I dislike crowds, but the first climate-action rally I went to was inspiring and energizing. While I haven’t attended any more due to my COVID fears, I stay up to date with the work being done by climate action groups on social media. Doing so makes me realize that other people care about the same things that I do, and want to change. Seeing that kind of mobilization and passion helps me feel less alone.