5 expert strategies to beat eco-fatigue

Forgot the reusable cup for your takeaway coffee again? Using the aircon more than usual? It could be eco-fatigue. Here is what you can do about it.

As the compost bin gathers dust and your once fervent dedication to sorting recyclables begins to dim, eco-fatigue may be seeping into your sustainable living routine.

It’s understandable – amid a constant stream of news about a changing climate, habitat loss and extreme weather events, reducing your carbon footprint can feel like an uphill battle.

What is eco-fatigue?

Many of us are familiar with the term eco-anxiety, a profound worry about climate change.

But now a new sentiment is emerging – eco-fatigue, which is marked by feelings of being discouraged about environmental issues.

Psychology for a Safe Climate chief executive Dr Bronwyn Gresham says while it isn’t an official medical mental health condition, the experience of eco-fatigue is valid and understandable.

“There’s a lot going on in the world and it can leave us feeling many things, including depleted and exhausted,” Dr Gresham says.

“It is a rational and common response to living in challenging times, which can have a negative impact on social and emotional wellbeing.”

Generation Z are among the hardest hit – research by the Orygen Institute shows 76 per cent of young Australians are concerned about climate change, with 67 per cent of young Aussies saying these concerns are having a negative impact on youth mental health.

What to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed by eco-fatigue

Take a mental break

It might seem counterintuitive when there’s so much to do but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, psychologist Tara Hurster recommends taking a short break.

“When your brain is stressed, it actually switches off your logical thinking,” The TARA Clinic founder says.

“If you’re starting to feel quite impacted, it’s OK to just take a breather for a minute away from the topic.”

Tara recommends trying something totally unrelated.

“Little creativity breaks, like colouring in or doing a puzzle, can help bring balance back to the brain and allow you to cool down,” she says.

But it’s important to remember that giving yourself a break does not mean you don’t care.

“It doesn’t mean you’re giving up on everything or going against your values,” Tara says. “You’re just giving yourself an opportunity to breathe.”

Take positive action

The next step is to channel your concerns into beneficial actions.

So, volunteer for that community clean-up day or join that local tree-planting group.

Tara recommends focusing on what you can do that also makes you happy.

“So thoughts like, ‘I’m really excited about finding a new farmer’s market that’s in my area’ or ‘I’m looking forward to finding new ways to have a plastic-free home’ are really helpful,” Tara says.

“It also brings some joy in the choices you’re making, rather than focusing on the distress of what’s not happening.”

Find your people

Join groups that share your passion for a healthy planet, Dr Gresham suggests.

Connecting with others provides a support system to share experiences and ideas and collectively work towards meaningful change.

US researchers have found engaging in collective action can help reduce climate distress.

“I really encourage people to join community groups so that they know they’re not alone,” Dr Gresham says.

“It’s not an individual problem to solve– this is our collective human quest.”

Climate cafes hosted by Psychology for a Safe Climate are among the first of their kind to be offered in Australia.

In these virtual cafes, people can gather, make connections and process thoughts and feelings.

Selectively consume information

Be intentional about the type and amount of environmental information you consume.

While staying informed is important, consider limiting your exposure to distressing news and focus instead on stories of collective action and inspiring solutions.

“These days we’re exposed to so much more detailed information and with that comes a cognitive and emotional load,” Dr Gresham notes.

“Be aware of what is happening broadly in society, but focus your attention on your local context, like family, school, workplace and community.

“When we focus on things that are distressing outside of our realm of control, that can erode our energy and sense of agency.”

Ask for help

Dr Gresham suggests seeking support if needed, which may involve reaching out to a professional for assistance.

“Don’t hold back on asking for help and receiving help,” she says.

“We’re meant to do this together, we’re meant to support each other to regulate our emotions – we’re not meant to do this all alone.”

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Written by Bianca Carmona.