Read about an effective strategy to help us face our eco-anxiety in order to move forward empowered, hopeful and proactive.
Are you worried about climate change? Do you dread switching on the news? Is your quality of life and mental health affected by the challenging times we are currently living through? Does your heart break at the thought of what our children and grandchildren are facing up to?
Well, you’re not alone: Recent statistics show that globally up to 80% of the global population suffers from mental health symptoms related to the climate crisis. A 2021 study by The Lancet on the effects of eco-anxiety and climate fear on children and young adults (aged 16-25) found that 59% were extremely worried and 84% were at least moderately worried.
Eco-Anxiety is a major symptom of our times:
A new WHO policy brief states that Climate Change poses a serious risk to mental health and is urging for climate considerations to be included into mental health programs.
One of the things we are most afraid of is facing our fears, touching into this vulnerable space of truth… While I write this sentence, the sheer contradiction of this concept becomes so obvious. Our biggest fear is fear itself… there must be something that can help us cut out the middle man/woman so we can get straight to it? (One of my favourite podcasts on the topic of facing our fears is the wonderful Rick and Forrest Hanson’s episode: “Facing our Dreaded Experiences” for anyone interested.)
Of course, this sounds very simplistic and naïve, particularly when we are dealing with “real” fears in relation to climate change rather than an anxiety disorder. For many of us, denial is a very effective protective mechanism and the last thing we want is to dive into the places where it becomes real, where we see, hear and feel what’s coming at us… definitely not a pretty sight!
There are effective methods in which we can face our eco-anxiety:
It’s a reality though and if we want change, progress and hope, we need to go to this place where it hurts, where we see the truth with open eyes. Denial can only ever be a temporary band-aid as subconsciously we know that our future is threatened. Even though on the surface we keep going and pretend everything is rosy, our mental health suffers greatly and we know we have to face up to reality at some point. As the song in “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” goes: “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’re just gonna have to go through it!”
I love this spiral by Dori Midnight illustrating the approach of “The Work that Reconnects“. You can see that an integral part of the approach is “honouring our pain”, a pain we all feel, even if it is subconsciously.
There are many different approaches that can help us when we’re in a place of helplessness, frustration, denial, worry and general “stuckness” (probably not even a real word!!) about our future on this planet.
A wonderful method of gently touching into our worries and fears in relation to climate change is the practice of open-ended sentences. It can be difficult to find the right words when met with a challenging topic, especially when it’s emotionally triggering, hence the classification “eco-anxiety”. Having a conversation with either a therapist or a group supported by a structure of open-ended sentences can guide us through this unchartered territory and gently release what’s already inside us anyway. The open-ended sentences serve as a scaffolding or vessel that helps to hold our fears, dread and worries and express them freely and truthfully.
So what are open-ended sentences?
Open-ended sentences are sentences that leave room for spontaneous expression while at the same time guiding the participant towards a certain topic. I personally find it important to have a good mixture of sentences, also including hopeful and nature-connecting phrases rather than solely concentrating on the more difficult content.
A couple of examples:
I love being alive on this earth because…
Some things I really appreciate about myself are…
A place in Nature I fondly remember from my childhood is…
I worry about the future because…
When I am in my garden I feel…
OES are a helpful communication tool for younger children but the practice is also used in specific ecotherapy settings such as the above mentioned “The Work That Reconnects”.
In WTR the exercise is done in a very specific routine and in pairs: partners sit face-to-face without speaking until the practice begins. One is Partner A, the other is Partner B, when the facilitator speaks each unfinished sentence, A repeats it, completes it in his own words, addressing Partner B, and keeps on talking spontaneously for the time allotted (the time allocation is given beforehand and signalled with a little bell or similar). The partners can switch roles after each open sentence or at the end of the series. The listening partner – and this is to be emphasized – keeps silent, saying absolutely nothing and hearkening as attentively and supportively as possible.
There are many variations in which we can use Open Ended Sentences, they can be part of a morning circle, serve as a powerful journaling prompt or writing impulse in a classroom setting , or we can simply use them as a contemplative impulse integrated into meditation by ourselves.
Here you can download a list of open-ended sentences that are suitable for both adults and children. It’s always important to assess the individual situation and choose the most suitable ones depending on age and setting.
Of course, facing our fears, our eco-anxiety, in relation to the climate crisis has to be embedded into a process that meets us in this vulnerable place and brings us forward to the next step: Learning about hopeful projects, informing ourselves, stepping back from sensationalist media, becoming proactive in our own behaviours, reconnecting with Nature, adjusting our lifestyle, engaging with community…
If you’re up for it I’d like to invite you to our 30-day Climate Hope Challenge where you will learn further elements to support yourself and/or the people in your life. Healing eco-anxiety is a journey that’s best approached in a community so I set up a Facebook group for positive and encouraging exchange, you’ll get the link once you have signed up.
If you would like to learn more about ecotherapy and the many ways we can integrate Nature into our personal and professional lives: The pioneering Mindfulness Rooted Ecotherapy Practitioner Training is now EVERGREEN for a trial period of six months at a greatly reduced training fee of €950 once off payment or instalments of 3 x €325. Registration is now open!