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Navigating Your Relationships in an Age of Climate Crisis

This is not an article about the phenomenon of eco-anxiety. Reams have already been written about ecological anxiety, including XR’s Special Report: A Short Guide To Eco-anxiety. Thankfully, this response to the climate and ecological crisis is increasingly accepted by professionals to be quite understandable from those of us focused on the perilous state of our planet… or anybody who’s paying even the slightest attention to the news. This article is about why some of your loved ones are struggling to support your eco-anxiety.I am an anxious person. I didn’t tell anybody I was gay until I was 17, which taught me that I either talk about what’s on my mind with the people I love, or my day-to-day life becomes difficult. Of course, gay men approach their sexuality and life decisions in a myriad of ways, but for me, repression from expression lead to depression.The climate and ecological crisis smashes around inside my head like rocks in a washing machine. I’ll see a bird and think about how few there are compared to 50 years ago. Or, while I compost my food waste, I wonder about people I know who have the facts and tools to also do this, but don’t. These thoughts build in my head like drips in a bathtub, trickling until the tub overflows. When I express these thoughts, the plug is lifted for a few seconds and I no longer feel overwhelmed.When I hit general anxiety overflow, my family and friends usually help me to express myself, and I feel better. When it comes to eco-anxiety, however, my experience is often different. You might recognise some of the responses I have received:You need to calm down.You’re catastrophising.You should talk to a mental health professional.Science is man-made and changing all the time – it can’t possibly predict everything.These responses do not help me. I don’t want to calm down. I don’t want to be numb to the climate crisis, or learn to put it in a box. What I want is to do something about it. I had four sessions with a therapist, who told me that my eco-anxiety is rational. I knew that already.I feel adrift and alienated in my feelings for an issue that does not warrant alienation.I began to wonder: how many other people feel this way? There must be loads of us.I first realised I was indeed not alone while watching a debate regarding the Insulate Britain protest group on Good Morning Britain, featuring journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot. The part that struck me was presenter Susanna Reid’s comments to Monbiot at around nine minutes in, a couple of minutes after he had teared up, as he described potential climate scenarios. Reid’s response?”George, I’m sorry that you feel tearful about it. You obviously feel something that is not getting across to that majority of people.”So, as Monbiot is having a rational reaction to the widely verified fact that humanity is knowingly creating the end of our civilization, the presenter is simply sorry that he’s crying about it. Bingo! That’s how I feel: alienated.This article is not about who is right and who is wrong. There are more than enough polarizing thought pieces on the internet already, and I refuse to add fuel to that smouldering heap. Rather, it’s about how to appreciate and handle feelings of alienation that may arise when you need to express eco-anxiety.COPING TO FUNCTIONI contacted the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) for help. This alliance brings together psychologists who are engaging with the climate crisis, including Linda Aspey. A coach, facilitator, therapist, and speaker, Aspey told me that I’m not alone in feeling alienated.Aspey described a scene that will be familiar to many of us: watching footage of people starving to death in a famine-hit country on the 6 o’clock news while eating dinner in a safe and comfortable home. Aspey rightly points out that, in order for humans to be able to function on a daily basis, we have developed all sorts of coping processes for such scenarios — processes that can be applied to the climate and ecological crisis, as well. They include:DISTANCINGThe distance could be literal or metaphorical, but by establishing it, we make ourselves feel safe.For example: “Rising sea levels aren’t going to impact us, because we don’t live near the ocean.”INTELLECTUALISATIONBy initiating a debate, intellectualisation drains a topic of any emotion, and therefore suppresses anxiety.For example: “The World Bank was given X billions of pounds last year to tackle climate change, so why aren’t they doing something about it?”DEFLECTIONPushing the problem into the laps of others, which is an unconscious admission of feeling powerless and inadequate.For example: “As long as China continues pumping out coal, there’s no point in us doing anything.”DISAVOWALSimultaneously knowing and not knowing something — what the 1984 author George Orwell called ‘doublethink’.For example: You watch a news story about the need for urgent climate action, but it is immediately followed by a story that celebrates economic

Source: Anxiety and Alienation: Navigating Your Relationships in an Age of Climate Crisis