Coaching and Eco-Anxiety
I'm not sure that eco-anxiety is the correct term for the despair, grief and even panic that can grip us when we contemplate the future of humanity, and the destruction of our only home. However, at least it puts a name to a feeling that for some of us has been a growing sense of dread as we perhaps try to avoid engaging too much with what is happening to our planet. As Graham Lawton said in the New Scientist, ‘what we are witnessing isn’t a tsunami of mental illness, but a long-overdue outbreak of sanity’.
Last year, my own 'outbreak of sanity' led me to signing up to study Ecopsychology with the Centre for Ecotherapy, a course that aims to transform participants "from Ego to Eco". Part of me flinched as I filled out my application, wondering if this would lead to even more agonising in the supermarket, and a final goodbye to holidays in the sun. The course turned out to be a deep dive into grief and despair, as I finally faced the true existential crisis ahead. But this dive was well supported; by powerful learning, skilful facilitators, well-established peer groups and a deep connection to nature. So I also experienced the surface to air after the dive - realising I now had the emotional understanding, knowledge, support networks, resources, and resilience to keep moving forward.
Earlier this year I embarked on the Good Grief Network's Ten Steps to Resilience and Empowerment in a Chaotic Climate. Yes, this involved sitting in a circle sharing our fears about the future. It also involved forming friendships, laughing, sharing food, and dancing on a boat during a storm, with the final sessions taking place on Zoom as the Coronavirus pandemic hit.
So having experienced my own intense responses, how might my coaching work support others who want to do the same? As Jem Bendall (author of Deep Adaptation) said on Radio 4's Costing the Earth: Eco Anxiety, "It's important that psychotherapists, counsellors and coaches get better at looking at climate anxiety and climate trauma. We also need to look at ways to democratise access to support, get it off the couch, make it more normal in society, and help each other have conversations about difficult emotions".
I've joined the Climate Coaching Alliance, which aims to help coaches to provide people with spaces to process emotions and maintain hope and grounded optimism, while stepping into their necessary role in the face of climate emergency. And I've been reflecting on some of the tools that have helped me, which are:
Feel the feelings - find a supported space to explore your emotional response. "We need to feel the despair and feel the hope at the same time, and in the middle of that there is a way forwards." says psychotherapist Caroline Hickman of the Climate Psychology Alliance.
Connect and talk with other people who share your concerns: with friends, family, specialist groups, campaigns and communities.
Connect also with nature: take time to walk in green spaces, or sit under a tree, to listen to birds or watch clouds.
Take action - small actions can be empowering, so embrace what you can do: maybe it's looking for ethical banking, making informed decisions about what you eat, buying less plastic, thinking about how you travel, composting, recycling, picking up rubbish, supporting wildlife, volunteering for conservation or community projects, giving or fundraising for communities and countries already living with the impact of climate change, keeping informed and sharing knowledge, online or real-life activism - there is a whole lot of potential for getting involved in the way that's right for you.
With heartfelt thanks to Jane Glenzinska, Jess Bayley and everyone on the Ecopsychology and Good Grief courses.