Prescription for Eco Anxiety: Relax

Every possible malady has a name and a pill. Your kids can’t focus, they now have Attention Deficit Disorder. Your leg moves while you sleep so you get a diagnosis of restless leg syndrome. I just found out that I have Eco Anxiety. I heard an editor from a magazine say that one of his writers covers so many doom and gloom environmental stories that he went screaming from an assignment and took to bed. It hit home for me. I read and write so many scary health and environment stories that I give myself the shakes.

Thunder can kill us, pesticides can kill us, juice can kill us. Spinach can kill us. Before I take a bite or a breath, I wonder if this will be the final straw that finishes me off. According to therapists who treat Eco Anxiety, we react to our fears in one of three ways. We freak out. We shut down. Or we take action. I am probably a shut down person these days. But at one point I was on the freak out trail. Every time I wrote a story about a malady or an environmental trigger, I would rush to the doctor and swear I had the symptoms. Killer mosquitos headed toward the Gulf of Mexico? I was sure I had been bitten by one. My doctor always asks me what I have been writing about before she asks me about my health. She saves a lot of time that way.

Clearly the point of all of these messages we get is to inform and educate us. But it is also a way of scaring us into some kind of public outcry and action. I see enough action. I just focus on the anxiety. Perhaps the advocates, the researchers, and the people who sell products that will save us from the ills of the world can take it down a notch. Remember the days when people told you that you should drink bottled water for your health? Well, this year we are told that if you drink bottled water you are going to wreck your health and the environment. It is always a situation of hope-nope.

I think most of us want to be educated about the world around us. It is important to know the impact of the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the bad habits we have. But it is also important to leverage it with what can happen that is positive. We have moved beyond the possibilities to the train wrecks.

We all care passionately about issues. I am very much in support of the availability of fresh, fair, and affordable foods for people living in urban areas. It is tied to the health of the community, the education of our children, our housing and our overall wellbeing. Others care about how our food is grown. Others care about the pesticides that help to make food look beautiful but have negative impacts on our health. All are important. And all can be informative without making me afraid to eat an apple or having to pay $10 for an organic one.

Whether the issue is health, race, poverty, air quality, or education, we need to be able to talk about them without turning them into a horror show. There is so much stress in the world. There are so many issues that push up against us. I can’t help but wonder if this anxiety that feeds us is also wearing away at us. As a colleague says, it might not be the environment that finishes us off, it could be the panic that does the deed. Let’s lighten up.

Photo by Brooks Elliott

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