Is there light at the end of this tunnel?
One of the most frequent comments The Resilient Activist hears is that caring about the environment and the destructive impact humans are having on the natural world can be overwhelming and gut-wrenching.
There is the sense that trying to do anything of value, anything that will make a dent in restoring the health of the planet, is just futile.
News agencies and social media are flooded with information about how dire the carbon dioxide level is.
There are frightening predictions about how many years humans can reasonably plan on continuing to live our current consumer lifestyles before the earth can no longer support us.
Overwhelm and deep grief
For many, when we see images of suffering of endangered species or witness the destruction of beloved places in nature, we can feel awash in helplessness and impotence.
Can’t we just wish it all away?
Embrace our inner ostrich?
Stick our heads in the sand?
Pretend that everything will, magically, be all right in the end?
The problem with climate change and environmental destruction and their impending threat of the impact on our lives is that these are not problems that will just go away. It’s not like recovery from the pain of a kidney stone, for example, in just a couple of days.
These environmental threats didn’t just start in our lifetime, they are ongoing, and may not be resolved in our lifetime.
So how does one learn to live in a joyous, peaceful way when there is this overarching sense of impending doom and gloom?
EnviroTips to the rescue
Our tag line: Simple Steps. Big Impact.
You can begin to feel more in control if there are some concrete and easy-to-accomplish things you can do that will make a big impact on your overall emotional state.
What are some simple steps you can take, when confronted with environmental grief, that will make a big impact on your emotional health and restore a sense of well-being?
We invite your comments below to share more thoughts and help shift the conversation to one of resiliency and hope.
Face it head on (the anti-ostrich approach)
Remember a specific environmental grief that you still carry in your heart.
And then intentionally step away from your everyday life and set aside private time to acknowledge the event and your reaction to it in a thoughtful way – starting with self-compassion.
As recommended by Dr. Kristin Neff, founder of Self-Compassion, “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”
Take a few days to stay out in nature – it’s always a perfect place to find some peace!
Practice yoga, study meditation, exercise doing something you love.
I can tell you for sure, you, and your emotional health, are worth it.
Your grief and the resulting emotions and thoughts may just be the catalyst for something uplifting and positive that will benefit the world. (Yes, I’m talking to you!)
Here are five simple steps that may help when you experience a sense of futility or deep loss in nature.
- Own your grief and mourn it as you would any other deep emotional pain
- Set aside some time to journal about it to identify exactly what you’re grieving about.
- Find the silver lining (it’s floating around somewhere nearby, trust me)
- Decide how you want to think about it because you become what you think.
- Consider finding your inner activist and take a stand or find your way to support those who do.
1. Own the Grief
Mourn it as you would any other deep emotional pain: write, sing, blog, paint, post, create community mourning process.
When a favorite Cottonwood tree was removed in my neighborhood, a neighbor made me a native bee house out of one of the branches so I’d have a tangible connection to the memory of this glorious tree. Consider what you could create or save as you would the loss of anything else in life that you loved. and express the grief however you wish.
Mourning the loss of nature is discussed in great detail in two books. Although they are very technical in their approaches, the recognition of our deep emotional connection to nature can be very reassuring.
- Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss & Grief. 2017 Edited by Ashlee Cunsolo & Karen Landman McGill-Queen’s University Press
- Living in an Environmentally Traumatized World: Healing Ourselves and Our Planet., 2013 Edited by Darlyne G. Nemeth, Robert B. Hamilton, and Judy Juriansky
You are not alone in this
The emotional toll that climate change is having on our society has caught the attention of those who work in the mental health fields.
In 2010, the American Psychological Association released a 230-page report titled, “Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change.” In March, 2017, they published another document, “Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance.”
This paper included new diagnostic codes for mental health concerns related to climate change and environmental grief.
Terms like ecoanxiety, pre-traumatic stress, and solastalgia (pining for a lost environment) are devastating emotional conditions that affect those who are passionate about a healthy, sustainable planet and who are deeply concerned about the negative impacts of human activities on our ecosystems and non-human beings we love.
Symptoms of PTSD can arise just by hearing or watching a traumatic event, even if you did not specifically experience it yourself. Images and videos in Facebook posts and Instagram feeds can be powerful emotional triggers.
Take symptoms of depression and unshakable despondency seriously and get help.
The Resilient Activist organization was developed to nurture and support those who are working towards our vision of future generations living in a healthy, diverse, and sustainable environment.
And we understand how difficult that can be for the gentle and sensitive souls who really care. Read more on this understanding on our Team page.
Now that these new diagnosis definitions are coming into mainstream mental health treatment, many, many therapists and physicians are incorporating the powerful benefits of holistic services and philosophies into their healing practices.
Look for a mental health professional who melds yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices into talk therapy and group therapy.
Find someone to support you who can counsel you on the importance of healthy eating and exercise and how they can be a great enhancement when incorporated into standard medication protocols for depression and anxiety.
Tap into your spiritual or religious community. Organizations such as the Sustainable Sanctuary in the Kansas City area are more and more prevalent around the world. These are spiritual and religious organizations who are taking their commitment to love the earth into the heart of how they manage their congregations. You may just find some of the uplift you need within their communities. Look for one in your area – or consider starting one.
And don’t forget about the healing benefits of time spent in nature.
So many of us are drawn to go out to nature in times of grief and suffering. DO IT!! Read more in our post “Benefits of Time Spent in Nature” and take its lessons to heart.
There can be profound spiritual and emotional uplift by spending just a short time in the natural world.
2. Set intentional time to deepen your understanding
Set aside some time to journal about it to identify exactly what you’re grieving about.
What is the background and history of this problem? (Remind yourself again that these environmental threats didn’t just start in our lifetime, they are ongoing, and may not be resolved in our lifetime.”)
Was it something you could have done differently or was it someone else’s decision?
If you had a do-over, could things have been handled differently?
If this situation was to occur again, is there anything else that you could implement now or make plans for now to encourage a more positive outcome next time?
3. Find the silver lining
This is a hard one. There really is a silver lining to every grief and tragedy, even if it takes years to bubble up to the surface.
Environmental destruction has inspired hundreds of thousands of nonprofits & socially conscious businesses to start up because of a deep grief.
According to world-renowned sociologist, Paul Hawken, in his inspiring book, “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming” (2007, Viking Press) this global movement for people to take a stand, shift focus, and honor their grief will have a larger impact on humanity’s history than did the Industrial Revolution.
“If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you don’t have a heart.” ― Paul Hawken
4. Decide how you want to think about it
In the same way that over time we find ways to decide to think about other tragedies and losses in our lives, we can intentionally decide what our approach will be in our memories and conversations about this experience.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
If your grief is related to loss, see how it feels to remember the place, in great detail. Find your gratitude/appreciation for what it was or what it offered and explore whether you can bring those same qualities back into your life in some other way. You may wish to seek out professional support to find a positive way to go forward with your loss.
Express your gratitude for whatever you can bring to mind that is positive and uplifting in relation to this event in your life.
There is great healing power in expressing profound gratitude. As this article in Psychology Today by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., there is nothing like The Healing Power of Gratitude to bring you greater happiness, improve your sleep, benefit your relationships, and lots more.
5. Tap into your inner activist.
Is someone already addressing this issue?
Do you want to join them? Or just make contact?
Feel inspired to make a recurring donation?
Do you want to tackle this problem yourself with your own supportive community? What are your own resources, skills, finances, etc.?
Remind yourself, more often than not, that there is an amazing amount of good happening around the globe, and that others, millions of others, do care.
Discomfort and humanity’s evolutionary leap
Like any other kind of pain, the sensations that arise, whether physical or emotional, are of value.
They are your indicators of a dis-comfort, dis-ease.
Jumping into activism as you move through your grief can bring profound uplift and a renewed sense of purpose and meaning.
According to Claire Dubois, founder of TreeSisters, we humans are evolving from a consumer species to a restorer species.
It’s an evolutionary leap we’re struggling to make, and like every other evolutionary change, it’s not going to come easily or quickly.
Here’s a little gift to you to help with the stress and incessant thoughts that can be part of this deep shift. It’s a 17-minute guided relaxation and meditation from our founder, Sami Aaron.
Coming Into Balance, A Simple Guided Meditation
Hankering for a shift
There’s the desire for change. Whether it comes from a powerful grief or it’s just a gnawing unrest, many of us have a craving for a shift that may be too compelling to be ignored. Follow the five steps listed above and …
Understand it and what your role might be in its evolution.
Know that you are stronger than you know.
Remind yourself that you are not alone.
Find your community
Google it. *
Whatever the topic, find out if others are already working to right this wrong or protect that area. Chances are that you’ll find a community of folks who feel your same angst and who love and appreciate and want to protect or restore or preserve the same things that you do.
As founder of The Resilient Activist, I was inspired every moment by the people who supported me in starting this organization. People who felt as I did but didn’t know what to do with their angst other than rail against it. The more we shared our stories, the better we all felt.
One of our most important senses is the recognition that sometimes we need to be part of a supportive community for our very survival. It’s an innate part of our makeup.
Comment on this EnviroTip article
Please comment below and let us know what works for you and what you tried that wasn’t so successful.
Check out our other EnviroTips articles too!
*Actually, The Resilient Activist recommends that you do your internet searches using Ecosia and plant trees while you browse!