What is Ecological Grief and How Do I Cope With It?

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The increasing global awareness of how climate change is impacting life on Earth is a significant cause for concern, and it affects many individuals' mental health and well-being. The climate crisis facing our planet currently affects Earth's inhabitants, surface temperature, precipitation, and changes to the Earth's atmosphere. These changes include the environmental impact on our oceans, natural water supplies, and living organisms facing catastrophic declines or extinction. 

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Coping with ecological grief isn't something new that is currently trending. This genuine threat to our way of life and existence has been around for several decades, if not longer. Only recently have these changes taken center stage in international forums and special counsels dealing with global warming and climate change. Many individuals fear this threat and the catastrophic changes creating climate grief and anxiety.

What Is Ecological Grief?

Ecological grief is a response to climate change and environmental loss resulting from worsening climate impacts that affect the earth's natural spaces, ecosystems, and organisms. A person suffering from ecological grief typically experiences climate anxiety along with other conditions related to ecologically-driven grief.

The effect of this loss is far-reaching and can include concern about the earth's habitability for future generations, including the bereaved individual's children and grandchildren. 

What is the Difference Between Ecological Grief, Environmental Grief, Climate Grief, and Anthropocene Horror?

Ecological grief centers around the real effects of global warming and climate change on our planet's surfaces, atmosphere, and living organisms within its ecosphere. Environmental grief, in contrast, is the grief linked to environmental losses of ecosystems resulting from natural disasters or changes to the earth's atmosphere or by artificial events that significantly impact the environment.

Anthropocene horror relates to effect news reports and other expert predictions on the changes occurring to the environment on a global scare.

What Does Ecological Grief Look and Feel Like?

Ecological grief manifests in intense feelings of climate-related loss and sorrow about the degradation of our ecosystems and the changes to our lives, livelihood, and our socio-economic and environmental systems that we rely on in our daily living. Mental health effects can include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Suicide ideation and completion

The three main areas of ecological grief are those associated with:

  1. Physical ecological losses
  2. Loss of environmental knowledge
  3. Anticipated future losses.

How Ecological Grief Affects Our Mental Health

Ecological grief affects our mental health through anxiety, including apprehension about the threats to our ecosystems and the ecologically-related distress experienced. Losses to our ecology also form viable stress and anxiety in individuals. These individuals suffer from ecological grief and worry about the future of our planet, the living organisms found within, and the threat to future generations.

For those wishing to have children, the trauma and stress of the declines in our quality of living, the air we breathe, and the water we drink can send new parents into panic and despair over their children’s future.

How to Cope With Ecological Grief

Coping with the emotional suffering associated with ecological grief and the changes to our environment can be adequately managed by taking a few steps to reduce its impact. Ecological grief and anxiety can be reduced by taking action to lessen potential future losses, focusing on mental health wellness, and through the help of appropriate grief counseling. 

Build resilient mental health systems

Approaching mental health wellness by acknowledging the issues caused by the changing global environment and lessening its emotional impact are excellent ways of coping with ecological grief. Taking an active approach in reducing the consumption of adverse news media reports and shielding oneself from the constant bombardment of media exaggerations also helps build mental and emotional resilience to bad news.

Setting boundaries and following through with how much information you consume each day also helps reduce your stress and anxiety. 

Work to improve urban spaces

Whenever global change impacts how you view the world around you negatively and stressfully, take the active approach to calm your fears. You can volunteer to plant trees and improve your communities infrastructure by helping reduce air pollution, beautifying natural spaces, and shifting to clean energy whenever possible.

Clean energy comes from natural and renewable resources that do not emit pollutants into our air or atmosphere. Sunlight and wind are two such natural, renewable resources we can start using immediately. 

Spend time with nature

Spending time in nature helps ease your fears about what’s happening in the world around you. Consider taking up the practice of Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. This concept of taking in nature originated in Japan and is a mindfulness practice with similar effects to yoga and meditation. The idea is that when you commune with nature, you inspire clothes to set aside their technology to inspire reconnection with the world around them and to protect our forests and natural lands. 

Seek counseling 

Individuals suffering from the effects of ecological grief may need the support of a therapist or counselor that can healthily redirect their fears and anxiety. Through proper support, bereaved individuals suffering from losses to our environment can get the help they need. They can explore the sources of their pain and suffering and develop viable solutions for managing their symptoms.

A trained professional will recognize the best possible solutions to each individual’s ecologically-driven grief and anxiety. This will include recommendations to group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or community resources. These options can help them connect with others to create positive environmental changes through volunteerism.

Tips for Finding a Therapist Who Specializes in Ecological Grief

Although the American Psychology Association recognizes climate change as a growing threat to mental health, there aren’t many mental health practitioners trained in ecological grief therapy. Many mental health practitioners feel they aren’t adequately trained or equipped to treat people suffering from ecological grief.

They don’t know enough about integrating the current environmental impact on our lives and communities to handle a person’s environmental loss-related emotions. To find a therapist trained in the particular area, you might want to first check with the following:

The American Psychology Association (APA)

The APA acknowledges climate change as a growing threat to the mental health of specific individuals concerned with our planet’s future for generations to come. Despite this ever-increasing threat to our sensibilities, the APA also recognizes a shortage of specifically trained mental health professionals equipped to handle environmental grief-related issues and anxiety. However, they keep a roster of registered professionals with their organization that can help individuals struggling with this type of grief.

Social media and online searches

A great place to begin searching for mental health counselors is to start with your online social circles to see if anyone can recommend a practitioner in this field. If you prefer, you can do a hashtag search by searching for the particular hashtag, #enviromentaltherapist, or something similar. You might even be able to find a dedicated Facebook group on this topic where someone there can refer you to a counselor.

Books to Read to Learn More About Ecological Grief

Getting yourself educated and informed about things that interest you, scare you, or intimidate you is a beautiful gift you can give yourself. The more you learn about this condition, the less likely you will stress about it. Under the right conditions, the authors below thought that writing about this trend was a good way of keeping the public informed while helping to minimize the stress and anxiety caused by the unknown. 

Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief by Ashlee Cunsolo (Editor), Karen Landman (Editor)

This book informs the grieving reader about our environment's challenges while bringing a voice to the ecologically-based anxiety facing individuals concerned with these large-scale losses. The authors introduce a new vocabulary to describe the global changes and losses to our environment and the new ways of expressing grief and sorrow over these losses.

They present suffering associated with industrial development, species extinction, ocean acidification, and deforestation. These are all seen as a new context for expressing grief and loss.

A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet by Sarah Jaquette Ray

This book on environmental activism is geared toward Gen Z as an existential toolkit for combating eco-guilt and burnout while advocating for climate justice, per the author. Inside, you'll find ways that young people are demanding answers from their governments and policymakers regarding the environmental problems resulting from generations of abuse.

Because they stand to inherit this problem on a global scale, they ensure that they have a way to cope with their grief and anxiety effectively. They also want the tools to better prepare them to take on global leadership to save the planet for future generations. 

Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in Without Going Crazy by Chris Johnstone (Author)  Joanna Macy (Author)

The book Active Hope guides building strength and resilience and reacting creatively to the global crisis of climate change, mass extinction, and depletion of our natural resources. The authors show their readers through a spiritual, mystic, and mythic transformational process and journey. They learn about psychology, spirituality, and holistic science to get them ready for their roles as the next leaders to take control of these environmental changes taking shape.

The Pain of Suffering Through Ecological Collapse

The severe and often irreversible changes occurring to our ecology, the environment, the globe, and the different species that inhabit this earth is overwhelmingly painful to process and accept. Depleting our natural resources harms the environment without much being done to reverse the losses or improve the systems currently in place.

These losses can devastate anyone concerned about our ecology and where it’s headed. It’s painful to watch and even more stress-inducing not to effectuate the changes needed because of bureaucratic ecological end-games.


Source:

1. Clark, Timothy. "Ecological Grief and Anthropocene Horror." American Imago, vol. 77 no. 1, 2020, p. 61-80. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aim.2020.0003. Muse.jhu.edu

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