EcoAnxiety

Cora, Megan and Keaton Smith sit down for dinner in their home Nov. 5. All of the work the Smiths put into preventing climate change is for the sake of creating a better future for their daughter.

A volunteer with the Fayetteville Citizen’s Climate Lobby makes presentations to politicians, travels across the country and speaks to crowds about a solution for climate change. Despite all of this work, Keaton Smith still sometimes fears that his efforts will not be enough to maintain a world fit for his 2-year-old daughter’s future.

Many people, like Smith, are dealing with eco-anxiety, a term for the psychological impacts of the gradual change of the climate, such as weather patterns and rising sea levels, according to the American Psychological Association. Eco-anxiety can cause symptoms such as depression, anxiety, aggression, violence and feelings of helplessness, fear and fatalism.

Rachel Weber, a therapist with Ozark Guidance who also operates her own practice, thinks there can be many contributing factors to people’s fears, and dramatized information on the internet can increase anxieties, she said. 

“I would help them explore where their anxiety is coming from,” Weber said. “Information that you can receive from the internet can increase anxiety because you don't know what’s accurate, inaccurate, embellished and not embellished. That contributes to it.”

Chris Bolas, one of the speakers at the Fayetteville Citizen’s Climate Lobby meeting Oct. 9, is from the Republic of the Marshall Islands. 

“I originally got involved because I saw how this issue affects my family,” Bolas said. “Every single person in my family can tell you how this issue would affect them and that just scares the s*** out of me.” 

If global warming continues, the Marshall Islands, and other small island countries, are at risk of “increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure” caused by rising sea levels, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This places the people of the Marshall Islands “at a disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences with global warming of 1.5°C and beyond.”

Rachael Foster, who is majoring in nursing at the UofA, has lived with the negative effects of anxiety brought on by climate change, she said. 

“The more you learn about it, the more you feel like there isn’t anything you can do about it,” Foster said.

To try to limit her own impact on carbon emissions, Foster began following a vegan diet in 2016. However, following such a strict diet increased Foster’s anxiety and developed into an eating disorder in 2017.

“I had a lot of pent up anxiety about the environment that I started to control food to another level that you shouldn’t,” Foster said. “I wound up having to go to treatment, and I realized that for me personally, I can’t be vegan without it putting my brain in a bad place.”

Foster thinks that finding other people and becoming more educated about climate change is a good step to coming to terms with eco-anxiety, she said. 

Cameron Simpkins, the founder of the non-profit organization Youth Guardians of Conservation NWA, tries to use her anxiety about climate change for good.

“Of course climate change makes me a little anxious,” Simpkins said. “I have ways of coping with that anxiety and one of those is making a point to come and support anything that is going on that is solution-oriented around this problem that is our Earth.”

While some people can experience these anxieties and turn them into fuel for positive change, eco-anxiety can be debilitating for others and can keep people from “properly addressing the core causes of and solutions for our changing climate, and from building and supporting psychological resiliency,” according to the APA.

“It is more important for those of us who aren’t in survival mode day-to-day to do what we can, even if that’s having a conversation or educating ourselves or educating someone else about how we can make things better,” Simpkins said. 

The long timeline of this slow emergency and the global complex nature of it can make fighting climate change seem futile, but Smith would encourage people to fight their eco-anxiety by being a part of the solution, he said.

“Hope itself is a political act,” Smith said. “That is one crucial piece to motivating oneself to action.”

Beth Dedman is a contributing reporter for The Arkansas Traveler, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Hill Magazine. Beth previously worked as a staff reporter for the Traveler in 2017, campus news editor in 2018 and lifestyles editor in 2019.

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