"The Guilt, Shame and Anxiety Cycle of Climate Responsibility" - Aleida Ixkes

Forests burning, rare species dying out and global warming. The climate crisis is resulting in constant headlines that depict the damage humanity has caused to the planet we call home. Often the outlook on the future of the environment can feel hopeless. While the green movement has been growing in recent years alongside the general population’s awareness of the planet’s declining health, it can often seem like there is nothing to be done to ward off the impending death of earth. Especially when looking at governmental decision making or lack thereof, and the active destructive actions of big corporations. The animal product industry is particularly shameless in their environmentally damaging actions. Cutting down entire rainforests to grow crops that feed the livestock, fulfilling the demands of mass produced meat and dairy foods and the resulting carbon emissions; speeding on the harolding effects of global warming. Companies like Primark engaging in Greenwashing to benefit from the current move towards climate conscious behaviour while simultaneously being a major player in the fast fashion industry, which has immense climate damaging consequences, is additionally frustrating. Navigating these feelings of frustration, anger and the growing anxiety for the constantly looming climate crisis is challenging and it can seriously affect your mental wellbeing. 

The climate crisis is putting many animals - especially those depending on the cold - in immense danger. Due to the moral conviction connected to my personal choice not to consume animal products, I often struggle with an immense feeling of guilt, as environmental action seems a moral requirement. Constantly second guessing whether I am doing enough to fight off the environmental damage being done through my mere existence on this planet. Especially at times of increased stress and low mental wellbeing, I tend to feel the effects of climate anxiety and climate responsibility in the form of shame. Maybe I should walk the extra forty minutes to buy groceries to avoid more plastic packaging. Maybe I should tighten my budget to donate to more charities fighting climate change. In short: “am I doing enough?” or “am I being selfish?”. Being aware of the endless ways in which the planet is suffering and how we humans are contributing to this can send us into a spiral of hopelessness and guilt. There seems to be a connection in my head between environmentalist action and moral behaviour. And as someone who struggles with low self-worth it is often difficult to learn when to put my mental wellbeing first and ease up on myself. 

My experience with climate anxiety has been that it decreases when I concentrate on being mindful of the environmentally friendly changes I have already made and the actions I am taking daily to minimise my own carbon footprint and plastic waste. From switching to shampoo-/ soap-/ conditioner- bars to eating a plant-based diet and avoiding single use plastic where possible. Staying active and reminding myself to be conscious of my daily actions has been helping with my feelings of guilt and anxiety. It is also important to remember that we can only do so much as consumers and demanding greater action from our governments and the big corporations is just as important as acting upon our personal climate responsibility.

I have learned to catch myself in these moments of intense climate anxiety and to take a step back, to gain perspective. After all, we cannot fight for the planet if we are not taking care of our mental wellbeing.