When your social circle comprises others who share your concerns about the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, social breakdown, and other threats to our planet’s future; you’ll be very aware of eco-guilt and how it can eat away at you.
Eco-guilt is something more and more people are talking about at the moment. But what is it? Eco-guilt is that feeling you get when you’re sure you could be doing more to help the planet, or you feel like you’ll never be able to do enough. It’s hardly surprising that it’s on the rise, as we learn more about what is happening to the environment, being bombarded with information about toxins, pollution, and the loss of biodiversity, or the melting of polar ice caps. The end result is people feeling overwhelmed to the point of inaction or raising their anxiety levels, neither of which are good outcomes.
When you’ve got children asking you the difficult questions about the uncertain future, then eco-guilt can become an even stronger emotional response. Children inevitably look to their significant adults for answers to the issues they hear about through social media and, unless you’re both and expert and a huge optimist, it’s hard to give them the reassurance they seek.
So, what can we do to counteract these feelings of despair and our part in the unfolding environmental emergency?
To be honest, I sometimes overlook how far I’ve already come. Logically, the chances are that if you’re feeling eco-guilt then you’re probably already making some positive changes in your life. It may seem obvious, but try to focus in on the wins you’ve had and how far you’ve already come. Celebrate that first. Then use it as a basis to make some more small changes, but just don’t lose sight of how well you’re doing already.
When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with how much more we could all be doing, try and make that motivate you into action. Find something positive you can channel that frustration in to – offer your time as a volunteer, join a campaigning group, write to companies or Government, set out to become an influencer, and lead by example.
Now, crucially for many of us, I’m sure: choose your fights. Most of us just don’t have the time to be crusaders on all fronts, so pick the one (or two) that really resonate with you and start there. It might be animal welfare or reducing plastic or organic food or restoring wildlife habitat– whatever it is, focus your energy there for now. Once you feel like you’ve made some headway you can look at making other changes as well, but in the beginning learn to fight on one front.
If you feel like the changes you have made so far aren’t doing enough, then look at making step changes where possible. For example, if you’re already good at taking reusable bags to the shops, then make your next challenge to reduce plastic packaging. If you’ve reduced your food waste then try growing some of your own food. There’s lots of little changes we can make to build on our earlier successes! Children can be rather good at nudging you to do more, too.
Focus on yourself, not on others. While it’s definitely important to let Government and organisations know what they should be doing better, the same doesn’t necessarily apply to the people around you. Everyone approaches these kinds of challenges in their own ways, and what is most important to you may not be to other people. Making them feel more guilty for what they haven’t yet changed isn’t going to help them. In fact, as I’ve already blogged about, this can simply put people off. What’s more, it won’t make you feel any better in the long term either. So, focus on the things you can control – yourself!
Lastly, celebrate the changes you’re making and the successes you’re having. Many of those steps you’re taking can be made more fun by adding an element of competition within your household, your wider family, your neighbourhood.