How climate activists beat daily doom

From specialised therapy and screaming sessions to spending time in nature, here’s how climate activists continue to fight the good fight

Hero image in post
Hero image in post

From specialised therapy and screaming sessions to spending time in nature, here’s how climate activists continue to fight the good fight

By Darshita Goyal05 Dec 2023
5 mins read time
5 mins read time

Every time you turn to the news, a barrage of climate anxiety awaits. A wildfire here, a possible extinction there and worsening air quality everywhere. While it’s unnerving to see this impending doomsday play out in the media, it’s inevitably trickier for those who've dedicated their lives to the climate space.

They're fighting the good fight against the climate crisis on behalf of the world, yet on more than one occasion, it can feel like one step forward, two steps back. Mark Vahrmeyer, a psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council of Psychotherapy explains that anxiety over the environment is increasingly a topic that’s discussed in his sessions.

The expert dubs this feeling around climate stress a psychological state known as learned helplessness. He says, “Unlike other anxieties a client may have which could be based on unfounded fears - their loyal partner is going to leave them, their boss who has just promoted them will fire them - eco-anxiety is rooted in factual data about the deterioration of our planet.

"The anxiety can often turn to despair and a sense that as one single individual it’s impossible to make a difference, and therefore the person feels stuck and useless.”

However, climate activists and those working in the climate justice space keep on keeping on regardless. So woo dug deeper to find out how these people battle their daily woes. From seeking specialised therapy and joining support communities to spending time in nature and rejecting toxic positivity, here’s how the people in the thick of it all keep up and keep going.

Lean into your community

Although it may feel like it’s you against the world, there are countless communities globally that are fighting the same fight, so don’t isolate yourself. Ayesha Mehrotra, the lead sustainability consultant at Positive Planet, confronts climate doom by engaging with people who may feel the same way. “Earlier I dealt with the anxiety independently but a community-based approach is a lot more helpful,” she adds. Jess Carter, the co-founder of Planet & People, an initiative that aims to educate young people about the climate crisis, also insists that it’s important to know who your allies are. She says, “It’s essential to get involved with something positive, whether it’s speaking to your best mate, working with a youth conference or confiding in a group close to you.”

A single step does make a difference

Yes we all know that every drop makes an ocean but on some days it’s hard to pull out a steel straw and reusable cup when there are single-use cups all around. Elle, the principal behavioural scientist behind the sustainability projects for Influence at Work often finds herself feeling the positivity of the small stuff. She explains, “I engage with projects that highlight how small, seemingly inconsequential actions, like using single-use plastic, can have a devastating impact when performed by millions of people. This is daunting but it also reminds me that the opposite is true. When everyone does something small, our collective efforts can bring about meaningful change.”

Remember news sells crises

When the toxic news cycle gets overwhelming, Simone Williamson, a marketing specialist at EcoJustice reminds herself that, “The news reports on every plane that crashes, not every plane that lands.” The activist believes that the media sells crises before solutions and so it often gets tricky to see that any good is happening. She says, “There are a lot of smart, passionate people around the world who are doing amazing work for climate justice, we simply don’t hear about them. Remember, these systems of oppression want us to believe we are in a losing game; for us to give up. Yes, our world is changing and will continue to change. But there is so much that remains that is worth fighting for.”

It’s okay to be angry

Let’s be honest, toxic positivity doesn’t do us good. In some moments, it feels like the world sucks and…that’s okay. But Amalie Wilkinson, an environmental activist, urges you to channel this feeling, “It’s valid to feel anxious, hopeless, and sad in the face of climate breakdown. But sometimes being confined to these emotions can make me feel like the powerless victim of a tragedy that has already occurred: I’m not. I, like other young people, still have a future to fight for."

"Being angry about inaction by government, businesses, and other key decision-makers is a key way that I transform hopelessness into hope, apathy into action. I allow myself to scream into a pillow, and meet the world with radical, fuming honesty. I would also tell other young people to be angry. Let’s scream, cry, vent, and turn these feelings into real hope for a liveable future.”

Show up in solidarity

Both Mehrotra and Williamson see climate action as inseparable from white supremacy, ableism, classism and patriarchy. So their activism - and in turn the response to any doom - involves attending indigenous-led blockades, emailing elected representatives and supportive community-based organisations. “Climate justice is social justice, and I’m a big believer in knowledge sharing so more people are aware of how these two intertwine and impact each other,” Mehrotra explains.

##Release that neg energy

It’s like joining a boxing class after a breakup except better. Some climate activists try to release the pent up frustration and helplessness by immersing themselves in a different activity. Williamson turns to running, weightlifting and volleyball while Wilkinson turns to poetry as a creative outlet. Maybe there’s potential to start a climate knitting club too?

Ask for organised support

If you work at an organisation that is cognisant of climate doom, request for access to professional support. As an employee of Positive Planet, Mehrotra gets six free sessions with a climate psychotherapist. “A lot of my colleagues have taken these up and found a big difference in how they feel,” the lead consultant confirms.