Living With Eco-Anxiety: Indians Tell Us About Their Climate Change-Induced Anxiety

Living With Eco-Anxiety: Indians Tell Us About Their Climate Change-Induced Anxiety
(L) Ishita ; Syed Izhaan (R)

Years ago, I remember coming across Greta Thunberg and her mention of a profound memory. When she read about greenhouse gases and global warming in school, the textbooks and teachers spoke of it so nonchalantly, as if it was a topic other than one hinting at the end of the world, all because of our actions and inability to recover from them.

Way back then, perhaps only a handful of us would have let that impact us, too. We read it like a chapter no different from the next and moved on. As we grew up and our days got hotter, storms got heavier, floods became frequent, and deaths due to these were common. Those simple words from school began to feel extremely real.

It is not novel information that climate change is real and claims lives and livelihoods. As scientific and technical as the issue is, it also has a great hold over people’s emotions and health. It is also rooted in human rights, gender, and inequality. The actions of some impact those far away from them, and no part of it feels fair. But oftentimes, even if I tell myself that switching to metal straws and circular fashion will make things better, I find my subconscious begging the question — do they really make things better?

The prospect of climate change almost ruling our lives and driving our decisions for the future is daunting. It is scary and often feels like a source of stress and fear. A bunch of plastic packaging in a food delivery often takes us back and the thought of ‘Am I doing enough?’ creeps in soon after.

This overarching feeling of anxiety due to climate change is called eco-anxiety. Medical News Today explains, “This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change.” The ‘human-induced’ aspect here is important because it is what drives the ‘How do I, as an individual human, help fix this?’. And so, to understand this (from a perspective beyond mine), I reached out to you –– to those who feel a similar sense of anxiety stemming from climate change.

  A word about our responses:  

  • The age group of our respondents ranged from 22-30 years old.
  • Most of our respondents were from Bengaluru, but we also received responses from Thane, Vijayawada, Faridabad, and Kochi.
  • 85.7 per cent of the respondents feel that their individual actions against climate change are insufficient in the bigger picture, while 14.3 per cent do not think so.
  • For qualitative purposes, the respondents were not forced to choose from just a selection of options and were allowed to give us insight in their own words.
  • None of the respondents chose to remain anonymous.

Anxiety & Climate - What Have They Got To Do With Each Other?

Climate change does not simply begin and end at concepts such as pollution. It is one of the largest and most complex issues faced by us and an immense number of factors contribute to it. Perhaps, the weight of the vast factors in itself is anxiety-inducing. But when we asked you what it is under climate change that instils this mental discomfort, we received a range of responses.

Uday Kotecha

30-year-old Uday and 23-year-old Syed Izhaan agree that single-use plastic is a leading cause of this. Dvija Mandava highlights her experience and tells us, “Recently, I was looking for a present to send my friend from an online platform. Everything I knew she would like came in harmful plastic wrappers. At that moment, it bothered me that most of our actions have a direct or induced impact on the environment, it was daunting to me. I haven’t yet figured out how to live life without calculating the impact of my every action on the planet. It feels like there is so escaping this unless something miraculous, like a climate emergency, is imposed.”

One of the ‘layers’ of climate change that I referred to earlier is that both, the cause and the effects can be a cause of concern. While plastic belongs to the former, Niharika Nayak from Bengaluru gives us an insight into the latter –– rising sea levels. She says, “The idea of losing my hometowns and loved ones. My family lives on the coastal side of India. I try to cope with it by hoping that we, as humans will adapt as the Dutch did. I believe the damage we have caused to the climate is irreversible at this point.”

Niharika Nayak

24-year-old Aayushi Gaur looks to the future, “I worry about the future generations, young kids who have no idea what they have to witness. We casually talk about the global temperatures reaching 1.5°C, but we forget that it’s just a decade away.” Additionally, she takes the example of the pandemic and says. “COVID is proof that collective action can deliver huge results within a short span of time.”

Ishita from Kochi would agree. She reminds herself that humans have come together before in times of crisis and can do so again. “I think the key to getting over eco-anxiety is to join the movement in whatever capacity you can. Whether it’s through volunteering, donating to the cause, keeping yourself informed or advocating for action, there are so many ways to help and be part of the movement and everyone is welcome,” she says.

Everyone is, in fact, welcome.

Coping With What Brings Us Down

Climate change is as global and all-encompassing as it gets, and yet, sometimes I’m amused/bewildered/shocked at the ignorance in most. It is almost as if I want to yell to them, “Hey! This influences you too!”

It is possible that eco-anxiety is also induced by the feeling of insufficiency. We feel that as one person among billions, our efforts will render useless. Reaching a point of questioning whether our small steps will translate into anything remotely quantifiable is not surprising.

Niharika and Syed Izhaan, both from Bengaluru share a similar thought; that it must begin with you, and the rest may follow, but even if they do not, one’s focus should not deter. In fact, Uday from Thane believes in the same ideology.

Ignorance plays an overarching part here. A large portion of the anxiety we feel is because so much is out of our control. In no humanly possible way will be able to look after it all, so worrying over it should feel pointless. Aayushi points out this vicious cycle, “Your eco-anxiety seems pointless because, at the end of the day, your anxiety won’t stop it (climate change) but only harm you.”

Aayushi Gaur

22-year-old Dvija lends a meaningful insight –– one I could not agree with more. She says, “It’s scary how many people I know in their 20s that do not care about the planet. Some truly stand by the ‘here for a good time, not a long time’ attitude and proceed to make extremely dangerous choices. I know it’s impossible to be 100% sustainable with your choices, but saying you’d rather make money and chill till you’re 60 doesn’t help anyone. The older generation is still trying to police our choices by pushing us towards the stability they think financial success provides. For the sake of my mental health, I have stopped trying to explain myself to those them and started having more open conversations with those with similar beliefs. And, it helped me!”

Drishti, a 25-year-old from New Delhi speaks of accountability, and I am glad she does because it subverts the idea of having to feel like we must act on behalf of another. “Through these systems, through legislation, through policy, we must hold our preceding generations accountable and get them on the wagon of this different future we imagine for ourselves, for the younger generation. After all, so many of these so-called elders constantly keep inspiring us to get behind a goal which may not have any direct impact on us or even a good one. It’s time for them to learn how to play when they don’t have the ball.”

Drishti Sharma

Ishita seemed to have had enough. And so, along with four others (Heeta Lakhani, Anushree Lokhande, Divya Kilikar, and Macson Almeida), she began The ClimAct Initiative, a climate education organisation that aims to make climate action accessible to all through education. You can find it here.

Climate change is here, and eco-anxiety is real. The collective experience of people proves so, but moreover, calls for proactive steps to tackle change for sake of our homes, lives, and families.

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