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How Coaching Can Relate to Eco-Anxiety

September 22, 2021 by Coach Training EDU

How Coaching Can Relate to Eco-Anxiety

Is the environment making you anxious?

The world is constantly changing, and with that change comes new fears about the future. With rising temperatures, an increased number of natural disasters, and severe weather events taking hold of the narrative, it’s no surprise that one would feel anxious. In light of the larger climate crisis discussed on the front page of many magazines, a newly coined term, eco-anxiety, has made its way into the mental health field. 

One particular form of “change” fuels eco-anxiety: climate change. Most people want to do their part to lessen its impact on the future of our planet, but it often induces anxiety, making us feel helpless. 

The news is a profound link to our anxiety, especially news filled with grim outlooks and sad stories. As one study found, negative news only takes about 14 minutes to stress us out. Couple this with the stress of the pandemic, and it’s no surprise we’ve seen spikes in anxiety disorders. Though the future of the environment may not be keeping all of your coaching clients up at night, it may be affecting some more than they even realize. More than half of adults think climate change is the biggest issue we’re facing today, but there’s still a lot of confusion about how to address the problem. 

Despite tendencies toward comfort, style, and frugality, more people are making an effort to make socially responsible purchases than ever before. This effort to combat the effects of climate change, however, comes at a cost. This is especially true with our Inner Critic and Future Self are battling in our minds over what it means to make “the right decision.” 

The roots of eco-anxiety

Before you can come up with actionable steps for your clients to take when climate anxiety strikes, take time to explore the emotions lying beneath the surface. Their emotional response to the stress and worry over the environment can have a major impact on their perception of the world. In turn, this can affect how they show up in the world. 

At its heart, eco-anxiety is a mixture of some pretty intense emotions, namely fear, anger, grief, shame, and a general feeling of helplessness. You may see these emotions show up in the following ways:

  1. Feeling Stuck. Most clients turn to life coaches to help them with an overall feeling of being stuck in their lives, for whatever reason. But eco-anxiety “stuckness” is a bit different. If a client feels an intense fear that the world is deteriorating, they may also experience an extreme lack of hope, which makes it difficult for them to move forward with confidence. 
  2. What Future? Along those lines, envisioning a Future Self could be increasingly difficult for a client experiencing eco-anxiety. If the future seems ominous and confusing, it becomes difficult to make goals entrenched in hope. 
  3. Hyper-Critical. We all have an Inner Critic who is often obnoxiously loud right when we need our confidence most, but a client crippled by eco-anxiety is going to have a slightly different flavor to their Inner Critic: shame. Shame that the world is being harmed and that there’s nothing they can do. Feeling helpless - and feeling ashamed of being helpless - are very potent emotions. 

So, what can we do?

Positivity and Action

As a life coach, your job isn’t to fix your client’s eco-anxiety. You’re not their therapist, and you don’t want to fall into coaching the problem instead of the person. But you play a key role in helping them see through that fear and make some small, actionable changes to improve their experience in a microcosm. 

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Stay Positive. Your client may have many fears to talk about with their eco-anxiety, especially if a particular dismal news story triggers them before a session. Your task is to listen with empathy, but encourage your client to maintain a balanced perspective by asking questions about the positive things happening in the world, too. Do your own research to make sure you have some resources for your client. 
  2. Stay Hopeful. As we’ve previously written about on our blog, Hope Theory is the general idea of bringing your client’s focus down to what they can achieve, rather than worrying about what they cannot control. The future can seem really murky until you bring your client’s attention to their own life, giving them focus. 
  3. Seek Vision. Allow your client to visualize what they might like to take on in stewarding their ecological footprint. Let them dream a bit, but ultimately help them sculpt it into something realistic that they can do in their daily life. Whether that’s cleaning up litter in their favorite park, or changing the way they consume, or something more intense like taking on a role in local government, make sure it’s something practical, unique to them, and personally fulfilling. 
  4. Set Goals. Turn those dreams into steps! Goals should be practical, measurable, and easy to celebrate when they’re accomplished. This will give your client back the control they feel has been taken from them, removing some of the teeth out of their eco-anxiety and making the future a less daunting prospect. And don’t forget the celebration; that’s the most important part! Celebrating a goal achieved builds hope for the next step.  

Eco-anxiety is a new reality - and one that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for a while. But instead of wallowing in it, life coaches are uniquely equipped to help clients face it head-on. Coaches have the ability to improve their clients’ lives. Turning fears into action is what life coaching is all about!

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