Climate change is a reality, deeply threatening what the future of our world will look like. The concept of climate change has increasingly started to cause eco-anxiety: the fear of future harm to the environment due to climate change and human activity. Mental health clinicians are reporting that more patients are coming in with symptoms of eco-anxiety. This is even seen with Google searches, where searches for “climate anxiety” increased by 565% in 2021. Research also indicates that more youth than adults are extremely worried about climate change.
In a study last year, 59% of youth and young adults aged 16-25 reported extreme worry about climate change, and more than 45% reported that this was negatively affecting their daily life. With the fear of climate change growing, many young people feel the pressure to live sustainably. They feel that their generation must solve the worlds’ environmental issues. However, it is impossible to live perfectly sustainably. It is important to learn the small steps that you can take to live more sustainably, rather than trying to change the world in one night.
What is Sustainability?
Sustainability refers to the ability to maintain continuously overtime. Sustainable living for individuals means understanding how one's daily decisions impact the world around us. As concerns about climate change and pollution have become more common, much of the world has started to engage in more sustainable practices regarding the environment. More consumers are paying attention to brands that put sustainability first, recycling more, and using fewer paper products. Although Gen Z has been shown to prioritize the environment, it can be difficult for youth to do so when their parents don’t follow a sustainable lifestyle. As much as children can be active in working towards a sustainable life, their overall behavior is greatly influenced by their parents or who they live with.
The Pressure to be Perfect
Because of the widespread nature of climate change, no one singular person can solve it. While it is important to do what you can, it is also necessary to recognize that it’s impossible to be perfect in living sustainably.
Sustainability is not about perfection, rather it is about progress. You are more likely to continue to practice sustainability in the long term if you make small changes rather than trying to change everything all at once. Baby steps always work best! Although small changes alone may not save the world, they do create sustainable habits for yourself, as well as leading examples for those around you. Rather than never using plastic again, ask yourself “what can I do with the plastic I already have?” If you try to operate at the maximum capacity, it will lead to burnout. You must sustain yourself first in order to live a more sustainable life.
Eco-anxiety can lead to this pressure to be perfect, which is damaging to mental health. Despite what social media may show, no one is the ‘perfect environmentalist’. Rather, what’s best is being an ‘imperfect environmentalist’. Working towards imperfect sustainability will lead to a drastically larger impact on the world. If everyone in the U.S reduced their consumption of beef, pork, and poultry by just one quarter, it would save 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emission per year. This is reducing, NOT eliminating! This is imperfect, not perfect.
Small Steps Youth can Take to Live More Sustainably
Where can one start with living more sustainably? There are many simple actions that youth, as well as adults, can take today to start making a difference. You can start with the three R’s: reuse, recycle, and reduce.
Reuse: rather than throwing away old textbooks or school supplies, donate them to younger kids in your neighborhood! This can also be applicable to other things, like clothes or toys you’ve grown out of!
Recycle: recycling is a simple, yet extremely effective way of conserving resources. Instead of throwing everything into the trash, separate plastic, paper, and metal waste into the recycling bin.
Reduce: Turn off lights when you aren’t using them, turn off the water when you are brushing your teeth, unplug the chargers for your phone when you aren’t using them, etc. Another way to reduce pollutants is to ride bikes or walk whenever possible. If you are going a short distance, and the weather is nice, riding a bike, scooter, or walking, is beneficial towards the environment rather than driving in a car. Additionally, public transportation and carpooling are great alternatives as well.
Taking these small steps can not only improve the environment, but also make a big impact on one’s eco-anxiety and mental health. Allowing yourself to celebrate these small steps is important, and recognizing that it is these small steps that our society takes collectively that makes the difference. By exploring and engaging in these realistic lifestyle changes, you can start to take action in improving the environment. Even if it is small, finding a way to make a difference that you feel good about can reduce eco-anxiety. Additionally, Neolth is a great resource to cope with any residual anxiety by offering personalized content and resources that can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Neolth Can Help You Cope with Eco-Anxiety
Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help you stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps you when you’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for your mental health journey. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students and teachers alike.Join Neolth’s Student Ambassador Program to contribute to improving youth mental health, and to empower your peers. You can learn more at neolth.com or sign up today at cloud.neolth.com.
About the Author:
Ali Green (she/her) is an Editorial Intern at Neolth, and a rising undergraduate senior at Emory University. As a student studying psychology, she found a huge passion for mental health. Upon discovering Neolth and then becoming accepted as an editorial intern, she became super excited to be able to bring awareness, education, and resources to students worldwide. She believes that it is important to create more accessible education and support around mental health issues to reduce stigmas and increase understanding. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, graphic design, and reading.