Eco-anxiety in times of a global pandemic + 4 ways to tackle it

Kajakkollektief
5 min readJan 4, 2021

While most news right now focuses on the worldwide emergency response to COVID-19, climate change remains an escalating threat. Who remembers pictures back in March that showed wild animals reclaiming public spaces and enjoying the freedom of a quieter world? We all saw the reports about the environment “recovering”, reports about the cleaner air in Northern India which allowed citizens of a remote village to see the Himalayan mountains for the first time. A blue sky in spring with no contrails in it, and the surprising reaction if you happen to see a plane nonetheless. Many of us hoped that the lockdown restrictions imposed across the globe would have at least a positive effect on the environment in the short and long run.

But the sad truth is that more and more studies show that reductions in greenhouse gases and other atmospheric pollutants have a very small impact on the climate if emissions return to pre-COVID levels.

As of yet, I don’t see us effectuate any meaningful change. Do you?

Eco-anxiety kicking in, in 3,2,1…

What is eco-anxiety?

Eco-anxiety, also commonly referred to as climate anxiety, is the feeling of extreme fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster. It is based on the current and predicted future state of the environment. Symptoms of eco-anxiety include panic attacks, hopelessness, depression, fear, insomnia, obsessive thinking, anger, powerlessness, and exhaustion. The list goes on and on…

Although eco-anxiety seemingly became more common in 2019 as the climate movement received widespread recognition (remember Friday’s for Future?), psychologists have been concerned about this issue as early as 2011.

In a survey that was held by the NHS in early September this year, psychiatrists were asked if they have seen patients who are distressed about environmental and ecological issues. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the levels of eco-anxiety observed were notably higher among the young than the general population.

Eco-anxiety is real. Lots of people feel eco-anxiety and it can have a significant impact on mental health.

This all may sound pessimistic, but hear me out: there are still ways to combat certain feelings of ontological insecurity. I’m sure that many of you are already on the right path (otherwise you would not be reading this), but I If you are dealing with eco-anxiety, make sure to read through the following 4 points that tackle this widespread issue:

1. Educate yourself

Educating yourself, doing research, and engaging with climate conversations around the world are great ways to ensure you remain engaged in the long-term.

If there is one thing that the coronavirus pandemic has shown us is that when the world is united by a common crisis — we come together and share our experiences and thoughts. With the climate crisis, there is no difference.

Here are 9 books to help you combat your fears about the climate crisis

2. Engage with Others

Those experiencing climate and eco-anxiety can also look to other people and communities for support and guidance. Eco-anxiety might feel isolating, but you’re far from alone. There are plenty of online groups and communities focused on sustainability and building a greener future. Find groups and join them! Social connections in times of the coronavirus are very important to your mental health and being involved with a group gives you sense of purpose and belonging. Plus, it’s fun to meet other like-minded people who share their ways of coping with stressful feelings.

3. Re-connect with nature

How many times did you go for a walk in 2020? And how many times did you really go out into nature? Spending time in nature is beneficial for anyone struggling with stress or depression. Reconnecting with nature can be very uplifting. I know it’s hard during the colder months, but really try to spend time outside and immerse yourself in what still exists.

4. Get involved

The feeling of climate-guilt can feel quite heavy, but instead of letting it overwhelm you, let it motivate you to bring about change. This can mean different things for different people. Lifestyle changes could include eating less meat, producing less waste, composting, and modifying your travel plans to avoid a flight’s carbon footprint. If these things are no longer challenging enough for you, you can take a step further and think about your professional career in sustainability, maybe you’d like to get involved in local politics? Have you joined a climate activist group yet? Getting involved encourages optimism as you think about what can be changed.

We are living in a world of uncertainty, no one knows for sure what is going to happen in any aspect of life. However, we need to listen to one another and respect how others feel — even if you cannot imagine feeling that way yourself.

Kajakkollektief wants to invite everyone who is experiencing and suffering from eco-anxiety to take part in their kayak clean-up sessions in the canals of Amsterdam. We hope to inspire people and take away feelings of distress. Kajakkollektief tries to educate like-minded people who want to reconnect with nature and who want to turn their eco-anxiety into eco-activism.

Stay safe and (mentally) strong! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram to get regular updates!

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Kajakkollektief

Discover Amsterdam with us by kayak while helping us build a cleaner and more sustainable city!