Every day there seems to be bad news vis-a-vis the environment.
Air pollution is killing more and more of us, while Trump continues to deny global warming, and we watch as Brexit promises to do away with EU regulations on environmental standards in this country.
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have 12 years to stave off a climate crisis, before we start really reaping the effect of human damage: mass famines, wildfires, droughts. You name it, it’s coming.
And that reality is freaking us out.
Vegan and eco-conscious
Before I went vegan, I was a concerned recycler who made sure that lights were turned off and my plastics were separated from my glass. I lived in relative peace.
The moment I ditched dairy, however, I started to feel increasingly helpless against the tide of shit hitting the planet. My own small lifestyle change felt totally insignificant.
I’ve cried on discovering that my boyfriend has dumped dirty plastic in the bin rather than cleaned and in the recycling bag. I’ve lost it over thoughts of potentially breathing in cancerous fumes which will destroy my lungs.
The struggle of being eco-aware
Environmental concern can feel sort of…paralysing.
And I’m not alone in feeling like that; so many seem to be struggling with it that the American Psychological Association, has listed eco-anxiety as a condition defined as ‘a chronic fear of environmental doom’.
We know that climate change can affect our wellbeing in various ways – not only physically (usual weather washing away our homes or destroying crops) but also the constant worry and uncertainty that comes from potential natural disasters.
We can suffer trauma second hand by feeling totally powerless in helping people in distress caused in part by our own selfish actions.
It’s a nightmare.
Mental health and climate change
Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster and coauthor of a 2017 report titled Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance, says that there’s some evidence to suggest that incidents of poor mental health linked to the environment are on the rise.
She says: “We can say that a significant proportion of people are experiencing stress and worry about the potential impacts of climate change, and that the level of worry is almost certainly increasing.”
“How it will affect people’s mental health in the long run will depend on how society responds to it,” Clayton adds.
Dealing with the anxiety
But there are things we can do to make ourselves feel better.
If you’re vegan, you’re already doing something great, so firstly we have to congratulate ourselves for making a lifestyle choice that does have such a big impact on the world.
Every day, we’re saving water and power by eating plant-based. If you want more, it might be time to start looking into eating organic (if you can afford it) and local, so you’re saving on those precious air miles. That means eating seasonally and saying goodbye to things like avocados and almonds; as we do rely so much on transported goods, maybe take it slowly to start with.
1. Get involved in activism
There are many different forms of activism, and getting involved doesn’t mean you necessarily have to go to Save vigils if that is something you’re not ready for – it can take all kinds of forms.
Go to a beach clean up. Activate online by seeing if you can persuade a couple of friends to try Veganuary. Invite people over for a vegan dinner party. Volunteer at an animal sanctuary or rescue shelter.
2. Find community online…
One of the reasons so many of us are here, reading Plant Based News, is that it’s a community. We get inspiration and comfort from talking and reading and being with each other.
“For everyone, strengthening social connections can be a powerful source of resilience,” says Clayton.
She claims that any form of community can help – it doesn’t have to be linked to environmental stuff.
3. Or in real life
In real life, there are loads of vegan meet-ups too. If you’re into running, join Vegan Runners or try to find a Plogging group (that’s running and picking up litter).
The Vegan Society has a campaigner network which will put you in touch with other people looking to make a difference in your area. On meet-up, there are tonnes of vegan groups and events.
Basically, you’re not alone in your existential dread, and there are things you can do to help both your mental health and the future of the planet.
Just remember that you are already doing something positive, every time you choose seitan over steak.