Are you experiencing eco-grief?

By Louise Jeckells

7 February 2020

3 minute read

Have you heard of eco-grief? It’s the emotional cost of ecological loss. Eco-grief is a by-product of natural disasters that can ripple through communities after a natural disaster.

We spoke to Fiona Martin, registered psychologist in our Health and Wellbeing team, about dealing with eco-grief.

“It’s absolutely reasonable to feel upset, frustrated, overwhelmed and disheartened. These are very ordinary responses to extraordinary circumstances,” she said.

Image of burnt bushland can bring eco-grief.

Burnt bushland in East Gippsland Fern Gully.

Research shows people are increasingly feeling the effects of these changes in their daily lives.

Climate change, and the associated impacts to land and environment, has recently been linked to a range of negative mental health impacts. Since the start of the latest disasters, Fiona has noticed an increase in eco-grief.

“Climate change anxiety and eco-grief is starting to take a toll on people’s mental health,” she said.

“It’s challenging to separate work and personal feelings surrounding environment. Some of the sentiments our people are expressing are, ‘it’s like there’s no escape and whatever I do isn’t helping’.

“Eco-grief is a natural, though overlooked, response to ecological loss. And it is likely to affect more of us into the future.”

Wellbeing impacts

Other impacts include financial hardship, family and relationship problems, and increased signs of physical and mental health problems. Stress can have a direct impact on our wellbeing.

Some common signs of stress include a range of physical symptoms, from headaches and difficulty sleeping to feeling hopeless or worthless.

“Most people experience some of these emotions at some point in their lives, and we all vary in our ability to cope,” Fiona said.

“However, if you are experiencing several signs of stress at the same time, or they are start to interfere with your ability to carry out daily activities, you should speak with someone you trust.

“In addition, you should also seek help from your GP or another health professional.”

A smoke haze over a city street.

Bushfire smoke covering George St, Sydney. Photographed December 10, 2019.

Taking control of your health

Dealing with eco-grief isn’t always easy. However, it’s important to try and counterbalance the negative with some things within your control. Wondering what you can do? Here are some tips:

Engage in a social activity
For instance, consider starting a social sport team or plant a community garden. Surround yourself with friends and family.

Bring yourself back into the moment
The practice of meditation, mindfulness and yoga all help with focus and positivity. Find an activity, like knitting or painting, that works for you.

Move your body
Exercise can produce scientifically proven stress reduction benefits. The feel-good neurotransmitters improve our mood and reduce the symptoms of stress and distress. When we exercise, we feel good. So remember to stay active.

Prioritise sleep
It’s important to get enough sleep. You should set sleep as a priority. However, if you’re struggling to sleep, remember you can ask for help.

Handling eco-grief can be challenging

If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact:

  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Discuss your concerns with your GP, friends or family.