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ECO-ANXIETY AND ADVOCACY BURNOUT

The climate crisis can be extremely overwhelming. Eco-anxiety and advocacy burnout are two challenges that are not only common but completely understandable given the state of the climate. POW’s mission is to turn passionate outdoor people into effective climate advocates and understanding these emotions and learning to manage them is an important part of that journey. We hope the following information and resources are helpful in that process.  

 

Eco-anxiety

Eco-anxiety is a state of anxiety caused by thinking about climate change and the future. Eco-anxiety commonly manifests itself through strong feelings of loss, anger, worry, and hopelessness toward the climate crisis. In more severe instances, it can lead to physical disturbances like panic attacks and sleep perturbation, and can contribute to the development of depression. Eco-anxiety can be experienced by anyone who feels a connection with the environment. However, its effects have been shown to be most pronounced in children and young adults [1,2]. Recent studies out of Bath University found that nearly 60% of people aged 16-25 felt “very worried or extremely worried” about climate change, and 45% said that these feelings had an impact on their day-to-day lives [3]. With strong cultural connections to the natural world that are being lost, Indigenous Peoples are a critical population in the eco-anxiety conversation  [1]. There is a notable lack of eco-anxiety research investigating the Indigenous perspective. We hope more research will be published in the future, especially for the particularly vulnerable Indigenous youth. 

 

Climate Advocacy Burnout

Climate advocacy burnout entails the emotional and physical exhaustion that is associated with being a climate action advocate and is applicable to the staff, volunteers, members, and supporters of POW, as well as any other environmental or social organization. This can lead to a serious decline in mental and physical well-being. Burnout is not a short-term lapse or a bad day. Rather, it builds over time and leads to the loss of the optimism and motivation that may have inspired joining the movement in the first place. Signs of advocacy burnout include feelings of hopelessness, decreased productivity, headaches, anxiety, and depression [4]. 

 

Eco-anxiety can also contribute to advocacy burnout. The overwhelming feelings of hopelessness associated with eco-anxiety can derail many climate advocates. Advocacy burnout is not confined to climate advocacy. It extends to many different types of action that require large amounts of emotional labour and hard work to convey a message.

 

Addressing Eco-anxiety and Advocacy Burnout

Eco-anxiety and advocacy burnout can seem intimidating and overwhelming. However, there are two important things to remember. First, these feelings and experiences are common and understandable. Second, there are many things that you can do to prevent and address eco-anxiety and advocacy burnout. Do not feel alone with these feelings—many share the same experiences. Research shows that one of the best ways to alleviate this stress is by getting involved with some form of collective action [5]. Get involved with your local POW chapter, join an outdoor club, or just get into nature with friends. Collective social movements can provide a source of hope and empowerment, as well as a sense of community as you work together to fight for change larger than yourself. By remembering the strength of the larger climate advocate community, you can draw on the strengths of your peers and the collective to inspire change and motivate others to do the same [4,5]. It is also vital to understand your own personal limits. Taking time to relax and enjoy the spaces you’re fighting for will help prevent burnout. As a part of a larger movement, you alone are not responsible for everything, and the decision to get involved with climate advocacy is not all-or-nothing. Any contribution, small or large, is invaluable in the fight for a sustainable future. 

 

Remaining optimistic and focusing on what can be done helps destress potentially tense conversations surrounding the climate crisis [6]. If you ever feel overwhelmed and feel your mental health being affected, reach out for professional help. It has been shown to be a very effective method of alleviating some of the most serious effects of eco-anxiety and burnout [7]. Various resources can be found and accessed through federal and provincial programs in Canada—be sure to get familiar with the help that is available to you where you live. The Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport has a good collection of Canada wide resources. 

 

To conclude, we hope the following quotes relating to eco-anxiety and advocacy burnout can provide inspiration as you continue your journey as effective climate advocates. 

 

“... it’s because you basically have two choices. One choice is to assume the worst, and then you can be guaranteed that it’ll happen. The other is to assume that there’s some hope for change, in which case it’s possible that you can help to effect change. So you’ve got two choices, one guarantees the worst will happen, the other leaves the possibility that things might get better.”

- Activist Noam Chomsky, in response to a question about the choice to continue to advocate for change in the face of grim outcomes [8]

 

“Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast ... a part-time crusader, a half hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here. So get out there and ... ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive,”

- Edward Abbey

 

Toronto Chapter - [email protected]

Research and draft by Marco Buttigieg

 

References

[1] Coffey, Y., Bhullar, N., Durkin, J., Islam, M. S., & Usher, K. (2021). Understanding Eco-anxiety: A Systematic Scoping Review of Current Literature and Identified Knowledge Gaps. The Journal of Climate Change and Health, 100047. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joclim.2021.100047

[2] Panu, P. (2020). Anxiety and the Ecological Crisis: An Analysis of Eco-Anxiety and Climate Anxiety. Sustainability, 12(19). https://doi.org/10.3390/su12197836

[3] Harrabin, R. (2021, September 14). Climate change: Young people very worried—Survey. British Broadcasting Corporation. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-58549373

[4] Chen, C. W., & Gorski, P. C. (2015). Burnout in Social Justice and Human Rights Activists: Symptoms, Causes and Implications. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 7(3), 366–390. https://doi.org/10.1093/jhuman/huv011

[5] Clayton, S. (2020). Climate anxiety: Psychological responses to climate change. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 74, 102263. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102263

[6] Kelly, A. (2017). Eco-Anxiety at University: Student Experiences and Academic Perspectives on Cultivating Healthy Emotional Responses to the Climate Crisis. University of Colorado at Boulder. https://digitalcollections.sit.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://scholar.google.ca/&httpsredir=1&article=3665&context=isp_collection

[7] Baudon, P., & Jachens, L. (2021). A Scoping Review of Interventions for the Treatment of Eco-Anxiety. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(18). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189636

[8] Chomsky, N. (2002). Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky (P. R. Mitchell & J. Schoeffel, Eds.). The New Press.

 

 

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