“Reduce your plastic waste, don’t buy fast fashion, only use sustainable materials, ride your bike or use electric cars (yes, a Tesla!), fly less, eat vegan, make sure you speak up about climate change with all of the people you know!”
“…Oh and by the way: our planet is dying. We only have a few years to take action because the ice glaciers are melting, and our CO2 emissions are too high.”
If you regularly read about sustainability you’ve probably heard something along these lines many times before.
And let’s be real, it can be overwhelming and cause way too much stress in our minds.
If you’re someone who often feels…
…then you’re in the right place.
The team at aware_ are also bombarded with sustainability content and advice daily. It’s often empowering, because we get to help make a difference in this space. At the same time it can be overwhelming because there seem to be more problems to tackle than we can handle (or have time for!).
That’s why we found a few things that help us find a balance between helping the world and helping ourselves.
If you’re in the same boat as us, we hope that these tips also help you in dealing with ‘sustainability overwhelm’.
Before you read, please keep in mind that we are not psychologists. If you are struggling with serious anxiety, please also consider seeking out a professional to help you.
While you can’t control what is happening in the world around you, and what good or terrible things people are doing to the environment, keep in mind that you can control what to focus on.
Focus on the present moment: the reason we are often anxious, is because we are thinking too much about what might happen in the future. However no one knows for sure what will happen in the future. Therefore focus on now. What makes life good in this moment? What can you be grateful for? Your family, your friends, your pets?
Try meditating if you’re struggling to stay present. Alternatives include practising yoga, or listening to your favourite music. Do whatever comes easy to you and takes your mind off what might happen in the future.
Focus on the things you can control:
When it comes to climate change and the environment, or any other global crisis, we control very little. Yes, our actions are important because it is the collective of these that will make a change. But in the grand scheme of things, we can’t control what our presidents decide for example, or how quickly decisions are made. But these are often the things that give us anxiety and overwhelm us.
Therefore it’s important to focus on the things you can control, which are often the small things around you. Like what your community does, the food you consume, etc…
You can also decide to focus on reading more positive news (e.g @good.news.deutsch on Instagram) or watching no news at all. If you don’t want to be kept out of the loop, then limit your news consumption to 1-2 times per week.
You don’t have to do everything at once! When we get stuck into reading about ‘zero waste’ and ‘sustainable living’ for example, we think that we have to do it all. Eliminate our use of waste completely, drive electric cars, make sustainable products for your home, reduce travel, eat vegan, etc.
While all of these are important steps to take for us to be more sustainable, it’s impossible to do everything at once. Add the pressure of social media and people sharing how sustainable they are, and it’s easy to get discouraged.
Do these things at your pace instead. Celebrate your own small wins.
You had no meat for 5 days last week? Amazing! You went to the local markets this month to support local farmers and avoid shopping plastic. Great! You talked to your friends about launching your own sustainable community project?
Don’t discount these small wins. Celebrate them. And at the same time, don’t beat yourself up about not doing anything ’right’ for a week or two. None of us are perfect. That’s why you need to focus on you, and what you can do under your circumstances right now. Be fine with that.
Learn to ‘catch yourself’ when you’re dealing with overwhelm or anxiety. It’s so easy to get caught in your own head and let negative thoughts spiral out of control. When this happens, acknowledge it.
Don’t push your negative thoughts away with force. Instead, allow them in and be kind to yourself for having these concerns about the environment and the world. Once you’ve allowed negative thoughts to exist in your mind, it will become easier to handle them. This concept can be explained as the Acceptance and Commitment therapy, which Dr Russ Harris outlines in his book The Happiness Trap.
Know what makes you happy:
At this point it’s also important to know what makes you happy. Practice kindness towards yourself by doing these things and focussing on them. Here are some things that make us happy:
Do things that help you to get out of your own head for a while. A new perspective allows you to get a fresh start and afterwards things will seem a lot less overwhelming.
Remember that the planet cannot be helped when everyone is feeling stressed and overwhelmed. You need energy and happiness to make a difference.
Make your mental health a number one priority. Then you can move forward, one action step at a time.You are already aware. The rest will follow.