Air pollution, melting glaciers, collapse, multiplication of heat waves: after reading this information, part of the population moves on. But for the eco-concerned, they will become an obsession. Pierre Chevelle was one of them. After reading transition manual from Rob Hopkins, he becomes aware of the possibility of a collapse of our world. He soon sinks into a deep malaise.
Eco-anxiety is not a disease, but “a psychological state of mental and emotional distress in the face of the threat of climate change and global environmental problems,” according to psychologist and psychotherapist Pierre-Eric Sutter. This condition can be more or less strong and its intensity can be measured using a scale made by Hélène Jalin. There are five classes of eco-anxiety and only the last one falls under pathology. “I have my patients complete this questionnaire and when they are in grade 5, I refer them to a doctor or psychiatrist,” explains psychotherapist Charline Schmerber. For Pierre-Eric Sutter, if the discomfort persists for more than three to six months, it is necessary to consult as it can turn into generalized anxiety disorder or reactive depression. To prevent this, specialists and people who have suffered from it have been asked how they can cure their eco-anxiety. And the solutions are here!
Talk about it with others
“The risk of eco-fear is isolation,” explains Pierre-Eric Sutter right away. So the first thing to do is talk about it. “I feel like I came to my family by telling them I was going through a major crisis of eco-anxiety,” says Pierre Chevelle. But that still requires family members to be receptive and aware of climate issues. The young man recognizes it, he has had this chance. Raising the subject with his family allowed him to deconstruct his fears. For example, his sister suggested that they all move to the countryside together if a collapse ever happened. Gradually, the young man is reassured.
But speaking this out should not become an obligation to raise awareness. “My patients feel guilty if they don’t educate the people around them. But they are not responsible for this awareness’, analyzes Charline Schmerber. Nor should the dialogue turn into a guilt exercise. Sending an article to a friend who is traveling to show him that flying is wrong, for example, is not the best way to raise awareness, according to the psychotherapist. For her, it makes more sense to make others want to take them on board. “If one day there is a collapse, it is more important to keep the ties going than trying to convince people who already know that the world is not going well. †
Take collective action
This world not going well terrifies and paralyzes the eco-concerned. And that is explained. “Stress is a mechanism that makes it possible to deal with dangers or problems perceived as such,” Pierre-Eric Sutter specifies. “When we cross the road and a bus almost drives over us, stress makes us move aside, because the body senses the danger and reacts immediately. But in the face of climate problems, there is no immediate response. This fear that immobilizes must therefore be transformed into fear that mobilizes. The means: giving meaning to the commitment by taking action.
“You have to distinguish between what you can trade on and what you cannot trade on,” explains Pierre Chevelle. Joining an association for the protection of the environment, participating in municipal elections, becoming a vegetarian or adjusting your studies are all useful actions. But we have to choose them according to our personality and our desires. “What makes sense to you will be different than what makes sense to me,” explains the psychotherapist. By participating in acts of civil disobedience, Camille Charbon felt “regaining vitality”.
Eco-fear is future distress. People who suffer from it have their eyes on the future and feel a great sense of urgency. To help them, Charline Schmerber has them work on the present. “I tell my patients that, paradoxically, they will have to take their time. We don’t make good decisions quickly. †
This is the advice that Camille Charbon has followed. The young woman first left her job as a food industry executive to provide conferences and advice on environmental transition to companies. Only later, after working on farms during her vacation, did she decide to move to the countryside. “I realized I wasn’t connected enough with the living. †
Reconnect with nature
“You have to completely rethink your life choices if you have ecological values,” confirms Pierre-Eric Sutter. Camille has been working on a farm in Mayenne for two months. She lives there in a community and practices permaculture. “The framework is collective because the problems are collective. “It has been scientifically proven that sylvotherapy has an effect on health,” says the psychologist. Hiking, walking in the woods, gardening allows you to feel better and get out of a logic of exploitation of nature.
“I don’t think eco-anxiety is something to eradicate,” Charline Schmerber nuances. “I teach my patients to tame their eco-fear and live with an acceptable level that encourages action. When the last IPCC report came out, Camille felt depressed again. “Sometimes I go back to nights where I’m in total fear. But she’s now convinced she’s part of the solution rather than the problem.
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