As climate shows and plastic documentaries are becoming increasingly popular on Netflix, chances are that your awareness of the climate crisis is reaching new highs. Maybe you've asked yourself: “Why (on Earth) are we not doing more about climate change?”
Climate anxiety, by definition, is the stress or fear we experience when we get closer and closer to an anti-goal without feeling like we can do anything about it. An “anti-goal” is something we don’t want to happen. In this case, climate change and the results of a slowly dying world. The powerless feeling of not being able to do anything to protect the things we love causes stress to build up inside.
For a long time, I didn’t know climate anxiety was even a thing, much less that it affected my work as a freelancer and entrepreneur. But once I took a closer look, I understood that this worry for our planet and future had become a part of me, and it affected my life in many ways. I realized there were questions I grappled with daily, like how to create work with meaning when there’s this hovering reminder of climate change and whether or not what I do even matters. Is my contribution to this world enough?
Climate anxiety can show up in many ways, including stress, fear, an inability to focus, even apathy. Built-up stress leads to anxiety or even depression, a state in which we shut down and don’t engage. You might think that more awareness around climate change should spark the urge in people to do something about it, but studies have shown that we actually do less. When you don’t know what to do or where to start, the opposite happens. Instead of engaging in positive climate action, we become numb to the subject.
The more we learn about climate change, the less we do.
How does this relate to freelancers?
I believe that as a freelancer, this may hit you harder than most people. For one, you’re your own boss, so it’s in your personal power to make decisions about how you do business and spend your time, and the nagging feeling that you should do more for climate action can be hard to ignore. Second, since you’re the only one bringing in money to your business, disrupted workflow and creativity due to anxiety can hit pretty hard.
Fear and anger are powerful emotions that can trigger instant action (it’s a survival thing), but they also create a tunnel vision that blocks creativity and solutions thinking. So if you’re constantly in a state of worry (even if to the smallest degree), you’re probably blocking ideas and inspiration that should be coming your way.
If you find yourself stuck, you might want to find out if you’re suffering from a dose of climate anxiety. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to fall into this category; climate change affects all of us (your business, too), and the worry of a dying world can be overwhelming to handle.
The worst thing you can do about climate anxiety is to ignore it, as it will only continue to build up inside. Here are four tips I’ve learned over the years to heal climate anxiety and invite the flow of creativity and inspiration back into my life. (And, psst, we need a lot of that to battle climate change and build a new kind of world!)
- Find out if you hold onto any climate anxiety and, if so, what that looks like for you. I like doing a session of uninterrupted journaling and write down everything that makes me angry, afraid, and worried about the state of the world. Write a hate letter to the world and everything you find wrong, unjust, or fear-evoking. Don't hold back! Acknowledging the worry and/or pain is the first step in releasing.
- Tell yourself that you don't have to hold on to this grief to make a difference. The only way to positively influence yourself and others is by letting go of this pain. Cry or scream if you have to, or sit down and talk about it with a family member or friend. Whatever you do, don't keep it inside because it will keep building up and leave you in a place of hopelessness and despair.
- Get to action - any action! If the feeling of not being able to do something was the cause of anxiety, doing something will break that negative cycle. You don't have to do it perfectly, and you don't have to do it all at once, but do something. Keep striving to learn new things and commit to doing better, whatever that means.
- Find strength in community and know that you're not alone! Talk about it with others. Make climate conversations the new norm by inviting others to have fear and worries too. Climate change is that one problem you are allowed to talk about without having any proposed solutions! By talking about it, we release anxiety, and solutions and creativity are allowed to flow once again.
- Flip the narrative around climate change. Instead of fighting the anti-goal, how can you look for opportunities for expansion and growth? How can climate change create a platform for collaboration, innovation, and the birth of a new kind of world? Allow yourself to be excited about change, and the role we all play in making that new reality take form!
Are you ready to activate the aspiring activist inside you? Sign up for Anne Therese’s Climate Optimist Master Class this summer.