Earth Day 2022: Embrace sustainability, manage eco worry

A man drinks coffee and gazes out the window during a rainy day, contemplating eco worry.

Every year, we celebrate Earth Day on April 22.

Beginning in 1970 in the US with over 20 million participants, Earth Day has grown into a global phenomenon coordinated by More than one billion people participate in the annual event in more than 190 countries.

But taking care of the environment isn’t just good for the planet—it’s good for our wellbeing too.

Recent research published in Nature Scientific Reports found countries that rank higher on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Index, which tracks economic, social and environmental development, tend to also rank higher in subjective wellbeing scores. The 2020 report revealed that progress toward Sustainable Development goals like adapting to climate change and eliminating poverty are positively correlated with wellbeing.

Unfortunately, the 2021 Sustainable Development Report also found the pandemic has caused setbacks for all countries in sustainable development, creating one more variable adding to the stress level of people all around the world. For many, eco-worry has been on the rise for years, and it may become even more prevalent in the coming years as climate related news continues to permeate the media.

Stress, worry and anxiety are emotional conditions that often prevent employees from bringing their best selves to work each day. By supporting them as they navigate these experiences, we create happier, healthier workplaces. Help people at your organization manage eco worry with expert strategies from LifeSpeak expert and environmental journalist Candace Batista below.

What is eco worry?

As Batista says in her LifeSpeak video Managing eco-worry, “an increasing number of people are experience eco-anxiety, also known as climate anxiety, climate change or environmental anxiety.”

The phenomenon is characterized by bouts of anxiety or worry about environmental issues. In extreme cases, people suffering from eco worry experience overwhelming feelings of anger, fear, or helplessness as well as debilitating stress and anxiety.

“Psychologists all over the world are reporting a growing number of patients expressing distress over concerns about environmental problems and the state of our planet,” she says. “With the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle and the immediacy of the internet, it’s not surprising that eco-anxiety would be on the rise.”

She says those who have experienced extreme weather events may be particularly vulnerable to eco worry or PTSD. Some even deal with relentless fear that similar extreme events will occur to them.

To manage eco worry, Batista recommends spending more time in nature. She says even green spaces in urban areas are a great way mitigate unpleasant feelings with walks in the park being linked to stress reduction and mood improvement. She also advocates deep, slow belly breathing to help remain calm.

For specific advice on deep breathing, LifeSpeak expert Dr. Reena Kotecha recommends a technique called box breathing. By deeply breathing, we can reduce the size and activity of the amygdala, which in turn reduces the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in our system.

Box breathing is simple:

  1. Breath in for four counts through the nose
  2. Hold the breath for four counts
  3. Exhale through the nose or mouth for four counts
  4. Hold the breath again for four counts

Repeat the cycle as many times as needed. This is a great technique for anyone experiencing any type of stress, including eco worry.

Control what we can control: three quick tips from Batista

Another strategy Batista offers for managing eco worry is to focus on controlling the things we can control. Below, Batista outlines three simple areas that anyone can control to reduce their carbon footprint and live more sustainably.

  1. Composting is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Food scraps in landfills create methane gas, which increase greenhouse gasses.
  2. Task lighting means only lighting the part of a room being used rather than the whole room. This will help save money on power bills as well.
  3. Slow fashion is the opposite of fast fashion. Whereas fast fashion is about buying inexpensive clothing that capitalizes on trends, slow fashion focusses on clothes made from long lasting, sustainable materials, and treats old clothes as reusable rather than disposable. For example, we can recycle old jeans into new shorts.

But—beware greenwashing!

Anyone trying to embrace an eco-friendlier lifestyle will inevitably encounter greenwashing.

Greenwashing is marketing that claims a company is environmentally friendly either in the way it operates or its goals and products. Often, companies use words like vegan, eco, sustainable or green to make products seem more eco-friendly than they actually are. Here are a couple of tips to help your team members detect green washing:

  • Read packaging carefully and check for third party certifications.
  • Try to understand if the entire product is sustainable or just a small portion of it. For example, saying that 2500 kg of CO2 emissions were avoided might sounds impressive, but not if it only accounts for a fraction of a percent of the company’s total emissions.

If your people need additional help navigating eco certificates and product packaging, encourage them to visit the Eco Label Index website. It tracks more than 400 labels across 25 sectors, and Batista considers it a helpful resource for anyone trying to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Want to learn more?

Are you looking for even more expert-led education on sustainable practices, eco worry or stress management? Direct your employees to the LifeSpeak platform to view all the eco-worry related content available in your library.

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