Environmental guilt. Also known as “eco-anxiety” is the feeling that you’re not doing enough to prevent climate change or help save the planet. It’s a very real feeling and it’s primarily affecting young people who feel like it’s up to us to save the earth. Sound familiar?
Environmental guilt can show up in many areas of our lives. When we waste food, use a plastic bag or straw, take a little extra long shower, or even when eating meat.
The planet is in such a disastrous state that it often feels like there’s no room for screw-ups. Like using a plastic bag because you forgot your reusable could single-handedly derail all the process you’d made.
I’ve been there. Take a deep breath. I’m here to tell you: it’s not all up to you. And to remind you that you’re human. You weren’t meant to be perfect and your choices still have an impact.
Some times I feel like a fraud of a “zero-waste” influencer. I’ve bought a piece of fast fashion, I still consume honey, I’ve had to use a plastic bag. And it’s so easy to get caught up in the all or nothing of reducing waste.
If you’ve quit using single-use plastic but you still eat meat, that’s ok.
If you’ve stopped eating meat but still occasionally buy fast fashion, that’s ok.
If you’re started composting but still buy food in plastic, that’s ok.
It’s way to easy to compare our actions and feel like if we’re not doing it all, we might as well do none of it.
There’s a quote that says: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” – Anne Marie Bonneau
And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. Reducing our waste and our carbon footprint in ANY capacity is better than not doing anything at all. That being said, we cannot blame ourselves for the damage large corporations are doing.
You, my friend, did not cause climate change by driving your car to work everyday. You didn’t cause the plastic crisis by using a straw that one time.
We need to hold large corporations responsible and demand change, yes. But we cannot feel guilty for the damage hat has already been done.
How to deal with environmental guilt:
1. Take a social media/news break
If I had a dime for every time social media overwhelmed me with bad news, I could very well reverse climate change. I’m kidding of course, but the internet (especially 2020) has made me miserable. There’s terrible news coming out every day including terrible news about the state of our planet.
Then I log onto Instagram or tiktok and I’m angered by the incredibly wasteful trends happening that are also contributing to pollution and I just want to scream.
Social media and the news can be a lot. They have to ability to be joyful and helpful, but when you find yourself spiraling about the state the world is in, it’s best to take a break.
Yes, it’s extremely important to be informed on what’s going on. But if it leads to overwhelming environmental guilt or eco-anxiety, I encourage you to log off and focus on the world around you.
2. Focus on what you can change
Maybe you can’t stop large corporations from producing fossil fuels, but you could drive less, take shorter showers, or reduce your hydro usage.
Maybe you can’t stop grocery stores from wrapping everything in plastic, but you could buy as much of your produce in bulk.
We can’t hold ourselves responsible for what brands and companies do, but we sure can hold ourselves responsible. (And maybe send them an email or give them a call.)
Find the areas in your life that you can change and then hold yourself accountable. Sure, you’ll slip up every now and then. That’s why I’m not calling you to be perfect. But I am challenging you to do the best you can.
And when you do slip up, take a deep breath, and keep going.
3. Use your guilt to motivate you
In some cases, guilt can be a helpful tool. There’s a reason why you always feel bad about that one choice you make. Use that guilt as fuel to do better.
Pay attention to what actions and decisions aremaking you feel guilty. Is that something you can change? Then change it! If not, then focus on point number 2. Remeber it’s not all up to you to save the world. But it is up to you to do what you can to help the world.
None of us are perfect, but we all have one thing in common: the desire to protect and care for the planet that we live on. Learning how to deal with environmental guilt will break down barriers we’ve set up ourselves and help us to further create change. We’re all in this together, and change is happening.
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