Stress, eco-anxiety: how to reduce its effects?

Young people, in particular, are especially affected by this phenomenon. “Three quarters of young people aged 16 to 25 in 10 countries, both North and South, consider the future to be frightening” according to a study approved by The Lancet Planetary Health magazine and 45% of young people surveyed in 10 countries even state that eco-anxiety affects their daily lives.

The contributions of ecopsychology

However, certain practices and approaches help reduce ecoanxiety, particularly ecopsychology. It consists of analyzing the relationship between psychology and ecology. While the term is only spreading today, the idea has a long history. It has also been developing a more scientific dimension in the last fifty years.

Specifically, the first researchers of “ecopsychology” especially created therapeutic gardens, such as those in the nursing home in Huelgoat (Brittany) that Jean Merret installed in the late 1970s. Several authors mark the beginnings of this discipline: psychologists (Robert Greenway), ecologists, philosophers (Aern Naess), etc.

As for the concept of ecopsychology, Theodore Roszak, a sociologist and counterculture theorist, formalizes it in his 1992 book, “The Voice of the Earth” (untranslated; subtitled “An Exploration of Ecopsychology” in later editions). It was based on the work of Paul Shepard (Nature and Madness, 1982) who observed the relationship between nature and human consciousness. The magazine L’Écologiste produced a special issue in 2010.

The therapeutic garden is the most widespread approach today. The enriched gardens are multiplying and are now increasingly thought of in their connection with the patients who visit them and their needs. This practice is cited in the third Alzheimer plan for the years 2008-2012, established from the work of the commission chaired by Professor Joël Ménard, or by the European Society of Ecopsychology.

A French pioneer in ecopsychology

François Terrasson can certainly be considered a French pioneer in the discipline, with his work “La Peur de la nature” (2012) where he questions what kind of nature we love… Because between snake and insect bites, storms and other floods, droughts and avalanches, “nature” is not without its dangers. Recalling the facts, the author “seeks to decipher our deep relationships” with her and humorously points out our inner workings and explains why our society, by its workings, seems “determined to destroy nature.”

In other countries, the link with nature has been better preserved. Thus, in Japan, despite being hypermodern, the tradition of Shinrin Yoku, which meansThe “forest bath” is still very strong. The method consists mainly of taking a slow walk without any goal for two hours, “letting yourself be guided by your body, taking your time and savoring the sounds, the smells…”.

This tradition has gained international recognition. In these scientific publications, Qing Li (immunologist at the Department of Hygiene and Public Health, Tokyo Medical University) addresses various aspects of this discipline aimed at harmonizing body and mind with nature.

His studies have shown, for example, that lymphocytes (fractions of our “white blood cells”, involved in our immune system) increase in the body for a month after a six-hour walk through the forest. Or that, when we are depressed, walking limits our tendency to dwell on negative thoughts by helping us to better perceive our body, by prompting us to observe the world around us, whether natural or not.

But if nature can help us, its degradation (under the effect of pollution, destruction, etc.) also influences us, this time negatively. Hence the feelings of emotional distress ranging from regret to depression and anxiety. This can affect our present, our future, that of our children or the lives of people who live in countries most exposed to climate change.

When ecological problems hurt us

Several types of negative emotions linked to ecological problems have been identified. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish:

  • Eco-anxiety, generated by anxiety about degraded or catastrophic ecological futures, themselves caused by global warming, the end of non-renewable resources (energy, metals, etc.). This runs the risk of causing famines, poverty, wars, massive migrations on a planetary scale, etc.

  • Depression, including “solastalgia” (a term coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht) which refers to a deep sadness linked to the disappearance of a natural place: landscape, valley or territory where people have previously lived and with which they have established a strong emotional bond. link. When this site is later devastated by mining drilling, industrial construction, bombing, or even a natural disaster, this “solastalgic” syndrome can manifest.

  • Denial, consisting of acting as if “everything was fine” despite the periodic warnings made by the scientific community. Denial can also consist of minimizing the problem, personal or national responsibility, etc. Finally, it can contribute to thinking that “soon” we will find solutions, in particular technical ones. Denial contributes to the status quo and generates little change in lifestyles, either on a personal or collective level.

  • Guilt and innocence, coming from the feeling of being partially responsible, or not, for local or planetary ecological problems. The fact that the carbon and ecological footprint turns out to be on average proportional to income and consumption may be to blame for the poorest in the North, as well as for certain developing or emerging countries. Absence of blame can take various forms, such as denial of the problem or denial of responsibility.

Approaches to return to normal

There is a wide variety of practices that can be helpful, either to help reconnect with nature or to manage ecological anxiety. Psychology itself offers keys to unravel concerns:

  • Free yourself from guilt by becoming aware of your secondary place in the hierarchy of environmental responsibility,

  • Reduce your fear by becoming aware of your subconscious fears and their causes, as proposed by psychotherapeutic methods,

  • Let go of your eco-anxiety by learning to accept the worst, while remaining at peace. This is called the “work of grief.”

Another method: the simple practice of an ecology of leisure, which promotes hiking and outdoor sports, can bring well-being… Art, encouraging us to look more deeply at nature, to be interested in it, even if it means reimagining it, reinterpreting it It also helps to reconnect. This way of perceiving things beyond their real appearance can be reminiscent of that of indigenous peoples, who have preserved animist or shamanic practices.

Between shamanism and ecopsychology, there are ecopsychological practices of awareness through the five senses (perceiving the beauty of nature, listening to the sound of birds, smelling the scents of the forests, touching the bark of trees, etc.) . Some propose to create an “emotional” bond with the trees, hugging them. To help re-harmonize with nature, sociologist Hartmut Rosa suggests learning to enter “resonance.” Previously, he advocated slowing down in the face of the fast-paced world.

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