climate change”

Finding Light in the Eye of the Storm: Ecotherapy, Climate Change, and A Path to Resiliency

Image Credit: Catherine Nelson-Future memories

When faced with a natural disaster in the magnitude of a hurricane, I am humbled by my smallness in the face of this force of nature.  As my friends and family begin to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy I find myself going through days with bouts of sadness, fear and frustration.  My emotions sometimes seem all over the place. These new realities can create a ripple of anxiety that can be paralyzing and overwhelming.  Some psychologists are using the term eco-anxiety to explain the fear that begins to happen for people as we awaken to the reality of a new and changed planet.  Ecoanxiety is not a mental illness but a normal response to the environmental, cultural, economic and social changes that are occurring on the planet today.  Although scientists, social justice activists, environmental and spiritual and indigenous leaders all over the world have been warning about the effects of climate change for many years our political leaders remain in denial as corporations and those that support them continue on a path of destruction of every part of the planet.

The results of this destruction is not just environmental or economic.  Natural disasters including the perfect storm of climate change, economic uncertainty and increased unrest in the world exacts a high emotional toll on all of us.  In 2011 the National Wildlife Federation Issued a Report: The Psychological Effects of Global Warning and Why the US Mental Health Care System is Not Prepared.  As the storms increase, our awareness is heightened by the fact that the effects of climate change threaten everyone but they do not threaten all people equally.  If you rely on public assistance of any kind even if you have paid into that system such as Social Security, unemployment benefits, Medicaid, food stamps you now receive electronic debits of your resources.  But when the grid is down you don’t have access to these funds.

For the most vulnerable in our society women and children, people of color and low income people who are accustomed to living in a heightened state of stress this additional anxiety can be the tipping point over the edge.  Some people may not be aware of how their feelings connect to climate change. You may begin to notice that you begin to have your own inner storm that parallels the outer storms of Sandy.  Maybe you notice your eating more, drinking more, numbing out to mindless entertainment, maybe you are just irritable more often and not sure what the source is.  Maybe your children are having nightmares or acting out more as they are not able to always identify the source of their fear .

How does one begin to deal with our emotional reactions? 

This is where an ecologically conscious healer, therapist or spiritual mentor can be of great help.  As an ecotherapist and priest in an Earth honoring tradition I routinely ask questions and use interventions that  connect one’s individual feelings to the natural world and broader environment.  Ecotherapy uses healing approaches for learning to live more harmoniously with our natural environment.    In times like these this type of healing can be a good tool to help us all cope with these changes.  So if you are like me and feeling an increased sense of unease with the state of the environment and world here are a few recommendations for riding out the storms.

  • Give thanks everyday..what you focus on grows
  • Remember the ways of your ancestors and reclaim them…maybe your grandma was an expert at pickling food, or grew a small garden, or your grandfather could build things. We all have a legacy of knowledge from those who have gone before us, remember that knowledge and begin to live like one of your ancestors.
  • Connect with people around you…in the age of the internet, Facebook, we can easily isolate ourselves.  You are not the only one feeling the uncertainty whether you’ve been directly impacted by climate and economic change our not. Our silence will not protect us.
  • Research says we spend 97% of our time indoors.  Take a digital sabbatical for one day, one hour or one week break away from constant contact with the virtual world and when possible spend more quality time in nature. It could be as simple as taking a walk in a local urban garden, going to a park, or digging your hands in the soil.
  • Practice deep listening by engaging in restoration and community building or rebuilding work in your communities that is tied to preserving the environment.
  • Keep it simple…simplify your life.
  • Take the time to really listen to your children, watch out for them even if they are not your children.
  • Create, create, create.  All forms of art can help soothe the anxiety and bring beauty out of destruction
  • Vote…for somebody. It’s a simple but powerful act that we can do to have our voice heard.
  • Volunteer in your community. We know that climate change impacts the poor, women, children and people of color at a more devastating rate than others. Look around you and reach out and ask yourself what can I do to contribute to the good.
  • The days of working till you drop are over. Remember what and who is important. When the grid is down you can’t spend money but time and the people we love become more important than ever.

Copyright: J. Phoenix Smith

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      November 3, 2012 at 6:43 pm

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    zilpah yehud
    November 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    This is so pertinent Phoenix. Because we cut off all electronic devices every Shabat(Saturday) we are able to rest and re-invigorate ourselves for the week that lies ahead. It’s absolutely necessary and essential for our spiritual health. You’re right, when we free ourselves of care about material things we realize that family is all we have……so glad that you’re a part of mine!

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      November 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm

      Thanks Zilpah. I need to start taking a Shabat once a week myself. The US Culture is so manic..I am beginning to see the blessings of not working full time twice in teh past 16 months. I was able to slow down and get clear about the direction and focus of my life.
      Sending love to everyone!

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    Rain Sussman, LCCSW
    November 6, 2012 at 4:05 am

    Phoenix, these are wise words in hard times. Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts out to the world… they are a great reminder to all of us.

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      November 27, 2012 at 3:00 am

      Thanks Rain!

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