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Hope as Resistance: Countering Despair in the Climate Crisis (Eco-Anxiety Solutions)


Dawn breaking over a starlit sky above a serene lake with a silhouette of a mountain range, photographed by Payton Pan.
Emerging Light: The dawn's first rays pierce a star-filled night, reflecting over a tranquil lake with the majesty of mountain silhouettes in the backdrop. 📷: Payton Pan

In today's rapidly changing world, eco-anxiety isn't just a catchphrase—it's a real, tangible emotion that many of us grapple with daily. How do we find solace in the face of such an immense challenge? Today, I'd like to introduce you to a roadmap to navigate through these murky waters.


Step 1 – Acknowledge

Let's begin by acknowledging the enormity of the situation. Climate change is, undoubtedly, one of the most pressing issues confronting our generation. It's easy to feel small and insignificant when faced with such a behemoth. Acknowledging emotions such as fear, outrage, and grief allows us to become more comfortable with these difficult feelings, which consequently provides an entry to coping with our situation.


Step 2 – Allow

When faced with any emotion, especially those as potent as eco-anxiety, our instinct might be to shut down or run away. Some of us may feel so overwhelmed that we become paralyzed by fear, while others, to guard against the pain, slip into denial. But, remember this: It's okay to feel. It's okay to feel multiple emotions simultaneously—that's the rich tapestry of human experience. The paradox is that when we allow ourselves to feel fully, these emotions are less likely to overwhelm us (Greenberg, 2002). Allow the fear, the anger, the hope, and the love—they coexist, and they all have their place.


Step 3 - Act

While individual actions like recycling or reducing our carbon footprint are commendable, it's collective action that moves mountains. We've seen throughout history how movements, powered by unified groups of people, lead to seismic shifts in policy and commercial practices. Connect with action-oriented groups, lobby for systemic change, and rally behind causes that push for policy amendments or shifts in commercial behavior. Remember, while individual actions might seem like a drop in the ocean, collective action is the tide that can change the course of history (Han, 2014). Furthermore, as a socially oriented species, we need a sense of belonging to engage with a sense of commitment and stamina. Finding our tribe-created community and community is essential for lasting engagement.


Step 4 - Adopt

Our minds are powerful tools. But, unchecked, they can weave tales of extreme pessimism or catastrophizing. While it's essential to be realistic about the challenges we face, indulging in black-and-white thinking or negativity bias only saps our energy. By cultivating mindfulness, we can catch these unhelpful thinking patterns early and pivot to more constructive mindsets (Hayes et al., 1999). Being driven by hope and optimism, while grounded in reality, often results in more effective action and personal satisfaction.


Step 5 - Attend

In our passionate drive to make a change, let's not forget ourselves. Self-compassion isn't just a self-help mantra; it's a necessity. It's okay to take a step back, to have a day when the weight of the world feels too heavy. Perhaps today is your "angry day" or your "day of rest." Remember, attending to ourselves ensures that we can attend to the world with renewed vigor tomorrow (Neff, 2003).


In this tumultuous journey through the reality of climate change, while it's easy to get lost in the storm of emotions, it's crucial to have a guiding star. These Five A's—Acknowledge, Allow, Act, Adopt, and Attend—are not just steps, but pillars of resilience and strength. Together, with clarity and purpose, we can navigate the future, no matter how uncertain.


In closing, I'd like to impress upon you the powerful act of embracing joy and hope as a deliberate counter to adversity. In our ever-evolving world, teeming with uncertainty and significant challenges, succumbing to despair is all too easy. Yet, I urge each of you to boldly counter these shadows of doubt and actively choose joy. In echoing the sentiments of Robin Wall Kimmerer: “Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, bestowing upon us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair, not out of naiveté, but because joy is the daily gift the earth offers, and I am bound to reciprocate.”



Citations:

● Greenberg, L. S. (2002). Emotion-focused therapy: Coaching clients to work through their feelings. American Psychological Association.

● Han, H. (2014). How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century. Oxford University Press.

● Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (1999). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change. Guilford Press.

● Neff, K. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223-250.


About the Author


Dr. Heidi Schreiber-Pan, Ph.D., LCPC, with over 15 years in the mental health field, is the visionary Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Nature Informed Therapy. An affiliate of Loyola University, Maryland, her pioneering research emphasizes the transformative connection between nature and mental well-being. Author of books like "Taming the Anxious Mind" and "The Outside Within", she has seamlessly integrated traditional therapies with innovative nature-based approaches. A nationwide speaker and founder of Chesapeake Mental Health Collaborative, Dr. Schreiber-Pan's work continually pushes therapeutic boundaries, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural world.

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