How can we free ourselves from the chains of climate anxiety?
Climate anxiety can be debilitating for those people who experience it. The all-pervading fear and despondency caused by climate change can make an individual feel as though they are chained to an imminent death sentence with no means for repeal.
There is a way, however, to face the inner anxiety that wages an unsettling war within us when confronted with the environmental crisis. It involves four principles that can anchor you in troubled times: self-control, contentment, good company, and self-enquiry.
To start coping with climate anxiety, it’s important to be less affected by our emotions, thoughts, and desires. Easier said than done, I hear you say. And you are right. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We can achieve psychological resilience with effort, willpower, and fearlessness.
Self-control means control of our self – in other words, being able to manage the way we react to our internal and external experiences. It means being equanimous in the face of worry, anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, and loneliness. It means not falling into the trap of intense and powerful desires that drive us to unhealthy behaviours. And it means being less despondent about the natural calamities that the earth is experiencing.
One effective way to do this is living in the present moment and being more mindful throughout our day. Being mindful means maintaining a non-judgmental moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences. When we live in the present moment, we are more likely to be aware of how we psychologically react, which then allows us to regulate our behaviours in response. In essence, being mindful lessens our struggle with life.
Some other ways to develop self-control include the following:
- Lead a planned and moderate lifestyle
- Start saying “no” more to unhealthy behaviours
- Be mindful when you eat and drink
- Simplify your life – put a cap on your desires
When we practice self-control, we experience more peace and calmness. While everything that is happening in the external world may be out of our control, with self-control we gain power over our inner response to global crises, events, and situations. From this place of centredness, we are imbued with strength and are more capable to offer dynamic service to others in need.
It’s difficult to watch politicians and business leaders act and speak with complacency in relation to climate change. And yet there’s only so much protesting we can do to influence their policies and strategies. To move forward in our lives, we must bring some level of acceptance to the political and economic systems that our leaders and businesses operate in. Changing these will take time, perhaps a long time. We can’t afford to wait for governments to step up and take the lead.
But that doesn’t mean we remain idle. Essentially, it means being content but not satisfied, and from this state of contentment we can start taking inspired action. If we don’t – and instead we take action from a place of despondency, anger, or fear – we will lack the unwavering strength required to face the challenges and opposition that we may encounter. Initiating action from a highly emotional space is draining and can result in reactive and even aggressive behaviour.
To cultivate contentment, meditation is the key. Meditation is an ancient practice, which is gaining credibility in the medical and science communities for its powerful effect in changing the way the brain functions and for increasing peace of mind. When practised sincerely and at regular times each day, meditation becomes an effective tool to bring balance and contentment so we can face the challenges of life and achieve our innate potential.
A few other ways to develop contentment are as follows:
- Know what you need versus what you want
- Give to others
- Be grateful for all the things you have rather than being despondent about what you don’t have
If we choose to act from a space of contentment, we release an abundant reservoir of creativity, willpower, and dynamism – traits that are vital to solve our environmental crisis. With sincere and prolonged cultivation of these traits, our words, thoughts, and actions become invigorated with unrelenting positivity and hope.
A revered meditation master once said, “Good company will make you good. Bad company will make you bad.” On the surface, the statement may appear simple and seemingly common sense. But within it, there’s a depth of wisdom that can transform your life. The people we spend time with have a lasting effect over who we are and what we do with our lives. But it’s not just people that can affect us. The environments in which we live and work and the experiences we absorb through our senses also influence us. We keep company with many things. When we read books and magazines, watch movies or TV, play computer games, look at photos, or go to particular places – we can either be in good or bad company.
What does it mean to be in good company? Good company is that company which inspires, consoles, supports, and nurtures. Inspiring books can be good company. Spending time in nature can be good company. A therapist, teacher, or mentor can be good company. Good company keeps our spirits high, lifts us up when we fall, and lifts us even higher to reach for the stars. Our highest potential is possible with good company, while bad company merely drags us down to a limited version of ourselves.
Some other ways to bring good company into our life are as follows:
- Be mindful of your breath – without this company you cannot live
- Limit or cease watching mindless television shows or movies
- Spend time with friends who inspire you to be your best
- Seek professional mental health support
Life is challenging enough as it is without allowing ourselves to live in bad company. We owe it to ourselves to seek out people, environments, and experiences that encourage our growth, improvement, and transformation. And through becoming our ideal self, we in turn become good company for others.
Sometimes it can be frightening to think about the future, especially when we consider climate change. You might be asking, “What am I to do with my life when there is so much uncertainty in front of me? How can I make decisions and plan for my future?” When faced with such insecurity, we must turn our attention from what is happening around us and focus on what is happening within us. Self-enquiry provides a light to shine on the darkened path that lies before us.
It’s important to come to an understanding of who you are. What is your life about? How can you help others? How can you serve the planet and humanity? What skills, talents, and interests do you have to offer? How can you grow and transform as a person in response to the current global environmental crisis?
There are many ways you can engage in self-enquiry and some of these include the following:
- Keep a journal or diary of your thoughts and emotions
- Cultivate a creative outlet
- Contemplate on your purpose in life and if you are living aligned with it
We must remain eternally positive. Fearlessness must support each shaky step. There’s no crystal ball to know how the earth will be in five, ten, or twenty years time. But what we do have is our own vision and dynamic discrimination. The decisions we make today, based on our deep self-enquiry, can guide us in a direction that contributes to protecting and rejuvenating this beautiful planet.
Our future can be a paradise
In a world filled with fear and selfishness, we must become beacons of hope, courage, and optimism. When we step out of our homes each day (or even if we stay at home), may we carry a smile on our face. May our words be sweet and compassionate. May our thoughts be positive. May our actions be kind and selfless. If we can overcome our anxieties, worries, and fears – through self-control, contentment, good company, and self-enquiry – we can become advocates of a bright and prosperous future for humanity and Mother Earth.
Copyright © James Golding and Leisa Golding 2020