Eco-Anxiety: What it is and How to Manage it with Meditation

Our planet is experiencing a rapid increase in temperature and associated severe weather events. Research points to the burning of fossil fuels and resulting greenhouse gas emissions as the primary cause. Life as we know it is at risk without urgent behavioral change on a global level. Understandably, climate change is the source of great anxiety. Meditation can help ease this anxiety and also has a role to play in preventing further environmental degradation.

Eco-anxiety is the chronic fear of pending environmental disaster. For some, it arises from the trauma of having experienced an extreme weather event such as a tsunami, earthquake or fire. But it’s also spurred by the ongoing threat of climate change and the real possibility that someday our environment may no longer be capable of supporting life on earth.

Eco-anxiety can lead to overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame, hopelessness, powerlessness, and depression. Panic attacks arise as we wrestle with the enormity of the climate change issue and what seems like our limited potential to have any positive impact. We may be paralyzed into inaction, thinking nothing we do matters.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Meditation can help relieve the anxiety we feel regarding climate change and can motivate us to take action. The interdependence we realize in meditation teaches us we do matter. Each of us has a valuable role to play in minimizing harm and healing ourselves and our planet.

Meditation For Climate Anxiety

Meditation helps relieve any form of fear, worry or stress by regulating the central nervous system. Focused attention on the breath, grounding via mindfulness of the body, and resting in relative stillness all help ease the symptoms of anxiety.

But meditation has the ability to cut through to the cause of our anxiety, too. The mindfulness and wisdom we develop in meditation allows us to drop the story-telling and rumination that would have us fall into a state of overwhelm. No longer in our heads, we become more available for the present moment. And in this present moment, we can become powerful agents for change.

Meditation thus gives us a means to cope with climate anxiety, but also propels us forward into mindful action.

Meditation for Change

Being mindful of the environment arises naturally as we develop a greater capacity to observe and notice. We also become more mindful of our actions, our use of resources, and our capacity to contribute to real change.

As we turn inward in meditation to develop greater awareness, the truth of interconnectedness is one insight that arises. The actions we take are never neutral, but lead to consequences. By embracing this truth with grace and compassion, we can let go of the need for perfection, while still taking real steps to reduce harm.

The following types of mindfulness and awareness meditation may be particularly helpful for dealing with climate anxiety:

  • Mindfulness Meditations: Mindfulness of the breath or body, the earth and our connection to it can be calming and soothing. Meditations for stress relief can give us the energy needed to sustain our efforts in environmental activism.
  • Equanimity: Cultivating a calm, stable state of mind prevents us from reacting in unhelpful ways. We may still experience grief, sadness and anger, but we can channel this energy into meaningful action when we’re no longer overcome by it.
  • Self-Compassion: Just by living on this planet, we take part in perpetuating harm. Cultivating self-compassion can help us live with this often painful truth and give ourselves grace when we feel we’ve perpetuated harm in preventable ways.
  • Awareness of Interdependence: Contemplating our connection to the earth and other living beings including animals can help us feel nurtured and supported. Understanding that our actions have consequences can be empowering if we allow for that perspective.
  • Loving-Kindness: Loving kindness meditations strengthen our compassion for others, including our planet. We can practice metta meditation for the environment, for all those working to heal it, and even for climate change skeptics or those who perpetuate harm.
  • Renunciation: It’s important not to take more than we need. Renunciation practices help us realize that our happiness and contentment comes not from collecting worldly objects, but from the wisdom and compassion we develop within.

Mindfulness and Sustainability

Meditation and the mindfulness and awareness that it develops leads to greater sustainability. Meditation inspires us to take better care of our planet and each other, but also helps sustain our own personal energy for the necessary work along the long road ahead.

Taking time to sit in stillness, work with our emotions, and develop grace and wisdom helps us connect to something greater than ourselves. No longer worried about just me and mine, we become inspired and energized to work towards sustaining our planet for the benefit of all others.