How to Avoid That Climate Change-Induced Pit of Despair

CC BY 2.0. Celeste Pascual

You can't do it all, so focus on the one thing you do best.

Watching hurricanes rage through the Caribbean and United States this month has been deeply disturbing to the many people who believe that climate change plays a major role in the development of these mega-storms. Add to that the uncontrollable wildfires in Montana, British Columbia and Australia, catastrophic monsoons in Southeast Asia, and horrific mudslides in Africa, and the global situation often feels too overwhelming and depressing to comprehend.

For many, this has resulted in extreme environmental anxiety, paired with a sense of profound helplessness. A single person’s lifestyle choices are puny in the face of planetary disruption. Meanwhile, it seems that too many other people are doing too much to drown out individual action. What can a person do to avoid feeling utterly inconsequential?

Grist has published an article that offers some hope. Titled "Climate Anxiety Doesn't Have To Ruin Your Life," advice columnist Umbra asks various psychologists and therapists about how to cope with the emotional weight and fear generated by climate change.

The experts urge against falling victim to “resignation of place,” a state of depression. Sufferers have a tendency to throw themselves fanatically into one action, such as recycling, veganism, bicycling, etc. While these actions are praiseworthy, they are ineffective at changing other people’s minds about the planet’s fate, or for inspiring action. They’re more likely to be annoying.

But if that focus, that drive, that determination to help, can be redirected to something positive, then it can be a force for good, rather than a point of contention among the environmentally panicked and their unconverted acquaintances. The experts’ advice boils down to one suggestion – pour your heart and soul into something that you do well and use it to the best of your ability. Umbra writes:

“All of this is to say, dear reader, when you feel anxious and out of control in the face of a changing planet, choose the thing that you can do best and most effectively, and then don’t let others ruin your faith in it.”

Whether you’re an artist, a teacher, a chef, a writer, a musician, a farmer, a business owner, or other, use your unique voice to speak out. Figure out what your ‘thing’ is and run with it. Help others to pinpoint their own best skill and develop it as a tool to communicate love, support, and protection for the earth. At the very least, it will help keep the despair at bay and, as Umbra points out, prevent you from giving up hope.

Another piece of the coping mechanism that I appreciate is that of embracing patience. While we’re rapidly approaching the point of no return (if not already there), it’s important to remember that subsequent generations will grow up more willing to fight than current ones because they’ll understand the severity of the situation better.

It seems fitting to end with this quote by Rumi: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

Stick with what you know and can do today.