OPINION

Eco Living Festival: Jonica Newby speaks about climate grief

EMOTIONAL: Eco-anxiety or ecological grief is a rapidly growing phenomenon. Picture: Craig George
EMOTIONAL: Eco-anxiety or ecological grief is a rapidly growing phenomenon. Picture: Craig George

I'd never heard the term 'climate grief' until I fell victim to it in 2018.

It took me by surprise because I'm a science reporter - I thought I understood climate change.

But it wasn't until I started researching what's ahead for the Australian snow country I love that it suddenly hit me emotionally, plunging me into a depression so deep I needed antidepressants.

I didn't know it, but I was part of a rapidly growing phenomenon of eco-anxiety or ecological grief - terms that have emerged to describe the profound emotional and mental health toll of our escalating climate crisis.

Eco-anxiety refers to apprehension or stress about the future under climate change, ecological / climate grief to the sadness and despair about actual or anticipated ecological losses.

And it's particularly impacting the young.

In the largest study of its kind, earlier this year UK researchers surveyed 10,000 16 to 25 year olds in 10 countries, finding nearly 60 per cent were "extremely worried" or "very worried" about climate change.

A staggering 45 per cent reported their feelings about climate change impacted their daily lives.

Meanwhile, Australian researchers surveyed 5483 adults over 18 in 2020, finding that even in the midst of the first frightening lockdowns and the pandemic, we were three times more worried about climate change than COVID.

In the largest study of its kind, earlier this year UK researchers surveyed 10,000 16 to 25 year olds in 10 countries, finding nearly 60 per cent were "extremely worried" or "very worried" about climate change.

The study goes further, warning of an impending epidemic of mental health-related disorders such as eco-anxiety, climate disaster-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and future-orientated despair.

So how can people deal with their eco-anxiety and grief? How do we live a flourishing and happy life under the weight of this uncertain future?

These are the questions I've been on a mission to answer since my own confronting climate grief crisis.

I'll be sharing some of the wisdom I gained on this journey during my online event "How do we find courage when Climate Change overwhelms us," on Sunday, October 24 as part of the free Eco Living Festival talk, which is being held in the lead up to the COP26 summit.

First, it's important to name and acknowledge our emotions.

Sadness or worry are not a pathology but a rational response to the climate crisis.

There are experts who argue, and I agree from my own experience, that going through a period of grief or mourning honours your love for the world, helps your brain process new realities, and can be used as a "bounce point" to go forward with courage, resilience and active hope.

But recognise if distress is regularly interrupting your life - obsessive intrusive thoughts, disturbed sleep - and seek professional psychological help.

MORE OPINION

Cultivate a "healthy information diet" and avoid "doom scrolling".

It can be hard to find the balance between staying informed and overwhelmed, but set time limits on consuming negative news and look regularly at positive news.

Spend time in nature, look after your work-life balance, and above all, the best way to deal with anxieties about the future is to take positive actions - in your own life, and by joining all the wonderful people who are doing amazing things to help create the future we choose.

As we prepare for world leaders to meet in Glasgow for COP26, many of us are going to be feeling overwhelmed and even triggered.

But one of the wisest pieces of advice I received was to understand you can't fix the world on your own.

Change what you can ... but learn to accept what you can't.

It's enough that you try.

The Eco Living Festival has free online interactive sustainability events until October 24 to encourage participants around Australia to feel confident to create sustainable lifestyles and make choices that protect our environment.

Themed webinars will allow participants to understand ecosystems, reduce waste and get up-to-date with climate change from experts like Dr Karl.

For more information about the festival, visit events.humanitix.com/tours/eco-living-festival-2021/

  • Dr Jonica Newby, award winning science reporter, former Catalyst ABC TV presenter, and author of BeyondClimate Grief: a journey of love, snow, fire and an enchanted beer can.
This story Understanding the impact of climate grief first appeared on The Canberra Times.