World Environment Day is this year promoting solutions to plastics pollution under the campaign #beatplasticspollution.
It’s a reminder to all of us how our use and abuse of plastic is polluting the planet with devastating effect.
Family and Relationships Psychotherapist Lissy Abrahams says taking action and personal responsibility is a good antidote to the growing incidence of climate grief and anxiety among Australians especially the Gen Z age group.
“Climate anxiety and eco-grief is experienced physiologically as a threat to the mind and body. This sets off our innate survival response where our body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. This causes an increase in our heart rate and blood pressure,” says Lissy.
“Living in this heightened state for an extended period places enormous stress on our bodies, impacting our physical and mental health, and leading to chronic mental health issues like depression and anxiety.”
Floods, fires and the alarming data which shows our planet’s temperature rising at dangerous speed are contributing to anxiety, depression and helplessness as well as poor mental health among some Australians.
Official Statistics show more than 20% of Australians report experiencing a mental disorder over a 12-month period. But in the 16–24-year-old age bracket, the incidence doubled with 40% reporting symptoms of mental health disorders.
“I’m extremely concerned for this age group. My children are in the Gen Z bracket. Not only are they dealing with growing climate anxiety, but they’re also increasingly disillusioned with political systems to address the crisis with appropriate action and urgency,” says Lissy.
“Those of us in older age groups believe we have a choice about whether to engage with climate issues as we will be ultimately less affected. But Gen Z’s have no choice. They have no choice but to care and this comes at a cost to their mental health. For this to improve, they need to see their values reflected by those in power, and that they treat the climate situation as a priority and not a box ticking exercise,” adds Lissy.
Lissy offers a list of signs that indicate you might be experiencing climate grief or anxiety.
· Feeling off-kilter, noticing your capacity to return to a normal baseline has been reduced or is non-existent.
· Increased feelings of disconnection – not joining with friends or connecting with life in the way you used to
· Increased preoccupation with climate anxiety
· Increased restlessness
· Sleep disturbances
· Unshakeable sense of urgency
· Guilt about personal inaction
Lissy says action and doing “ONE LITTLE THING” is important to counteract feelings of disempowerment and helplessness.
“The days of simply recycling into coloured council bins as our contribution are over. To counteract feeling disempowered, helpless and even depressed we need to take action at the individual level. Sometimes a small action is enough to remind ourselves that change is possible. These small actions become motivators that can protect our mental health from feelings of total despair. For example, picking up litter at times in your local park or buying recyclable containers over single use plastics.”
“I also suggest zooming out of our individual world to see where we can influence others. For example, I wrote to an organisation I belong to ask them to stop catering with animal products at their events in order to become more environmentally sustainable. They listened and dramatically reduced the amount of animal products served at subsequent events. This one letter reduced their carbon footprint and water usage as an organisation. We can all take small steps like this to protect our earth and combat the feelings of helplessness, “ says Lissy.