Recently, my family and I went to a festival for the first time since 2019. As big festival fans this was a huge deal; the atmosphere was electric, the weather was uncharacteristically good and, when the music started playing, it was time to get a cold beverage!
Now, it wasn’t the overpriced pint that shocked me – it was the plastic cup placed into my hand. Like in the movies, there was that slow motion realisation which prompted me to look around. Through the dancing, sequins and bucket hats, I saw it: plastic everywhere.
The feeling I felt at that moment was eco-guilt. Even with no other alternative, the mental and physical effect of a negative environmental impact led to eco-anxiety.
Anxiety is defined as: “a mental condition characterized by excessive apprehensiveness about real or perceived threats”, so we can translate that into defining eco-anxiety as “worry and concern for the real or perceived threats to the planet”.
There’s no wonder the term ‘eco-anxiety’ is gaining traction; we’re constantly reminded of the effects of human behaviour, especially in first-world countries that are known for contributing most to the shocking statistics we hear, read or even see with our own eyes. Watching the devastation of the Australian bushfires, which have since been connected to human-caused changes in climate temperatures, would pull on the heartstrings of many, but especially those who actively pay attention to their own environmental impact.
With eco-anxiety, the doubts creep in: can one person really make a difference? Are we all doomed? Is it too little too late? Could I be doing better? Am I doing enough?
Eco-anxiety and eco-guilt vary with social factors such as age, gender, economic status, social support, relationships, and family, and isn’t just for certain personality types, people who are stressed, or someone who has a history of mental illness.
The truth is, obsessing over changes you can’t help does absolutely no good – not to the planet and definitely not to yourself.
Its simply impossible to be perfect in an imperfect world. In the UK alone, it is estimated that five million tonnes of plastic are used every year, nearly half of which is packaging, which places a large amount of responsibility with big companies producing and using such materials when alternatives are available.
Use the energy you would waste on feeling guilty to spread the word, pressurise these companies to make real change and make it fast! The most effective way to initiate and continue change is with encouragement, whether that’s encouraging yourself or others.
When you make small changes, you can absolutely pat yourself on the back and feel ‘eco-smug’ much more often than feeling eco-guilty! Yes, one day we are bound to forget our reusable bags, or be handed a plastic water bottle to drink, or in my case, get given a cold crisp cider in a plastic cup.
Living an eco-friendly lifestyle already comes with its false views of difficulty and expense. Lets not add anxiety or guilt to that list.