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10 Tips for Battling Eco-Anxiety During the Holidays

Posted by Elizabeth Burton on

10 Tips for Battling Eco-Anxiety During the Holidays

People around the world are struggling with eco-anxiety. A recent survey published by University of Bath researchers – which polled young people in ten countries around the world – demonstrates this. According to Robby Berman in a September 2021 article for Medical News Today, more than half of the 10,000 respondents reported “they felt ‘sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty’ about climate change.” Almost half (45%) confessed that “worrying about climate change is affecting their daily lives and functioning,” citing concerns about having “fewer opportunities in life” due to the crisis. Young people are particularly at risk, Dr. Matthew Schneider-Mayerson tells Berman. The Yale professor notes “‘most countries are gerontocracies.’” Because these older world leaders “‘tend to be less concerned about climate change,’” younger people often feel betrayed. Berman explains that the University of Bath survey is the first of its kind to actually “tie young people’s concerns to governmental inaction.” Though eco-anxiety might be most common amongst younger generations, climate distress affects all demographics. Writing for The Independent, Samuel Webb cites a recent Yale University survey. This survey found that “70% of Americans are...worried about global warming.” Eco-anxiety piqued during the pandemic as Americans watched both global health and climate disasters unfold. Quoting Julia Reynolds for BBC News, Katherine Latham writes that “‘covid has heightened people's awareness of environmental issues.’” During the winter holidays – when consumption and waste are both at their highest – eco-anxiety is at its worst. At Living Deep, we certainly struggle with climate distress around this time of year because our goal is to encourage others to make more sustainable choices and become more conscious consumers. From seeking alternative travel options to cutting your carbon footprint in the kitchen, follow below to read our ten tips for battling eco-anxiety during the holidays.

What is Eco Anxiety?

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

Eco-anxiety – also called climate distress – is a persistent fear of future impact of unmitigated climate change. Though the American Psychological Association might not yet consider eco-anxiety an anxiety disorder, it still impacts many lives. In their article for Healthline, Dr. Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD and Crystal Raypole outline common symptoms associated with eco anxiety. They write that feelings of hopelessness might be accompanied by “anger or frustration," expectations of environmental doom, "existential dread [and] guilt or shame related to your own carbon footprint.” Other symptoms include “post-traumatic stress after experiencing effects of climate change” as well as “grief and sadness over the loss of natural environments or wildlife populations.” 

Sadly, feeling extremely anxious about climate change can impact one’s daily life and future decisions. Amongst young people, one common outcome of eco-anxiety is the decision to prolong or avoid expanding their families for fear of affecting their children's future. The University of Bath survey mentioned in the introduction of this post found that more than three quarters of young people feel “the future is frightening.” Raypole and Dr. Legg write that eco-anxiety can contribute to other “secondary issues, like: sleep problems, appetite changes and difficulty concentrating.” Panic attacks and other impacts on mental wellbeing are also common.

How to Cope with Eco Anxiety Year Round

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

Eco anxiety is often worse during the winter holidays, but it affects many of us all year round. Thankfully, there are a few ways to deal with climate distress – whether you experience it at Christmas, during wildfire and hurricane season or every day. In their article “Anxiety from climate change isn't going away. Here's how you can manage it” for NPR’s Life Kit program, Julia Simon and Claire Marie Schneider offer their advice. 

Acknowledge Your Feelings of Eco Anxiety Are Valid

They write that feelings related to eco-anxiety are “a normal response to this crisis…and you can't just inject optimism and brush aside your negative feelings.” As such, Simon and Schneider first suggest allowing yourself to truly feel all of your feelings and acknowledge that each is valid. After all, “only by recognizing them can you begin to address them.” Next, they recommend finding ways to ground yourself and stabilize your emotions. Quoting Britt Wray, Simon and Schneider note that “‘mindfulness practices, as well as meditation, can be very effective for just…bringing you back to baseline when you might otherwise be spiraling.’” 

Establish a Support System of Those Who Share Your Concerns

If you still struggle to control feelings of climate distress in your own life and find this struggle impacting your mental health, consider reaching out to a friend or scheduling time with a therapist. In all likelihood, many of your friends and family are dealing with similar feelings. For those seeking mental health professionals, Wary, Simon and Schneider all recommend looking for one who practices “climate-aware therapy.” Climate-aware therapists -- such as those associated with the Climate Psychiatry Alliance -- will never “tell you that feeling despair about the climate crisis means you're engaging in catastrophic thinking.” Find out more about how mental health professionals from the Climate Psychology Alliance and other organizations could help you deal with chronic fear and other mental health issues related to climate anxiety here.

Commit to Climate Action – No Contribution is Too Small

Once you have established a source of support and feel ready to move forward, consider donating your time or money to worthy causes. Join an organization, form an alliance with like minded people in your community or find ways to help those who are most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. In their article for Healthline, Dr. Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD and Crystal Raypole write that some communities are at risk of greater loss than others. While they note that “everyone depends on the health of the planet…[certain groups bear] greater vulnerability to climate change.” Those at the greatest risk of loss during this climate emergency include indigenous communities – especially those “whose lives revolve around sea ice and other changing climates.” 

These people could suffer loss of not only their way of life, “but also their cultural and personal identity.” Communities that are socioeconomically disadvantaged or depressed, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses and workers who rely on farming, tourism and other industries impacted by climate change also face significant risk. Climate scientists often note that people living along the coasts -- where natural disasters and surprising extreme weather events are most likely to happen -- will encounter the brunt of climate change. Seeking ways to support these vulnerable communities could offer meaning – and a bit of hope – to you and your family as you struggle with eco anxiety. 

Why is Eco Anxiety Worse Around the Holidays?

Those who suffer mental health struggles related to climate change might experience more extreme symptoms during the holidays. This makes sense given that we create more waste, use more energy and produce more emissions during the winter holidays than any other time of the year. From Christmas lights and imported gifts to Thanksgiving air travel and holiday meal prep, consumption skyrockets between November and January each year. In an earlier post from our Into the Deep series about sustainable holiday celebrations, we noted that environmentalists often refer to Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s as “the world’s greatest annual environmental disaster.” Writing for Politico in 2019, Eline Schaart noted that U.S. and U.K. consumers produce between 25 and 30% more waste during the winter holidays than any other time of year. 

This holiday season combines artifacts of the pandemic – e.g. supply chain issues, labor shortages, shipping woes and new strains of the virus – with all the usual environmental impacts. If you are one of many struggling to capture holiday cheer as you struggle against mounting climate anxiety this year, follow below. We offer our suggestions for celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and next year’s winter holidays in a more sustainable way. Keep in mind that our individual actions truly do matter -- even if they only help by increasing awareness.

Ten Ways to Deal with Eco-Anxiety During the Holidays

#1 Buy Local or Domestic Instead of Importing

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

As you prepare to host holiday dinners, entertain family and friends or purchase gifts this holiday season, be sure to shop from vendors who produce their wares either locally or domestically. In her article “How the holiday buying season adds fuel to a rapidly warming planet” for The Conversation, Jennifer Ellen Good explains why this is vital. Good writes that “only in very recent human history have so many of us lived our lives at such a great distance from that which sustains us” and that now, “unchecked consumerism is helping drive a changing climate that is very much affecting all people.” While you should still check into the practices of local and domestic brands, imported goods generally leave a larger carbon footprint than those that are produced state-side. 

In fact, a significant share of the US’ CO2 emissions comes from imported goods. According to Zeke Hausfather ​​in a report for the UK-based nonprofit Carbon Brief, US emissions have increased 17% since 1990. Hausfather notes that US production carbon emissions accounted for only 9% of the 17% increase, “while consumption emissions increased by twice as much.” Buying locally or American-made products can reduce the carbon footprint of your holiday shopping trips. Shopping locally grown food for your holiday meals is especially important. As Cassandra Townsend explains in an article for Planet Home, this is because “food travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate…unless you’re buying local.”

#2 Seek Alternative Travel Options

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

While the Omicron variant of the coronavirus might have put the kibosh on some of our travel plans, millions still plan to jump on a plane or hop in a car this holiday season. For the 2021 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, AAA estimates nearly a third of all Americans will travel at least fifty miles from home. According to Iowa Capital Dispatch writer Katie Akin, this would represent a “34% increase in travelers from last year.” 

Unfortunately, both air and land travel both burn fossil fuels and contribute heavily to our nation’s emissions output. In her article “Choosing Not To Fly Home For The Holidays, For The Climate's Sake” for NPR, Megan Manata writes that “the United States produces the most carbon emissions from airplanes, creating nearly a quarter of the global total.” Citing data from the International Council On Clean Transportation, Manata notes that “about 69% of U.S. emissions come from domestic operations.”

How to Reduce Your Environmental Impact When Flying

If you must travel by plane this holiday season due to limited time off from work, you might consider choosing an airline that offers carbon offsets. In her article “Flying home for Christmas? Carbon offsets are important, but they won’t fix plane pollution” for The Conversation, Susanne Becken explains. Becken writes that “about one third of airlines globally offer some form of carbon offsetting to their customers.” Unfortunately, buying carbon offsets when flying is really just trading emissions, meaning that “we are merely maintaining the status quo.” To make flying more eco-friendly, Becken suggests “packing light,” as every extra pound burns extra fossil fuels. Similarly, avoid flights with layovers if possible. Flyers can also set a “carbon budget.” 

To this end, try not to limit your considerations to cross-country travel plans. Instead, think about how you travel to gatherings across town, to office Christmas parties and to religious services. Whenever possible, use public transportation or carpool with friends, family and colleagues. If holiday gatherings are nearby, consider walking or biking. 

What is the Most Eco-Friendly Way to Travel During the Holidays?

Thankfully, there are a number of alternatives to flying across the country this Christmas. Generally, taking a train or hopping on a bus is more eco-friendly than flying on a plane or driving a car cross-country. In her article “What’s the most environmentally friendly way to travel?” for The Independent, Lauren Keith explains. Quoting Head of Media at Campaign for Better Transport Alice Ridley, Keith writes that “‘taking a train, bus or coach is definitely more environmentally friendly than flying.’” Ridley continues, noting that “‘rail is more environmentally friendly than bus, but which one you choose will probably depend on the length of the trip you need to take.’” Regardless, both of these options “‘have a lower carbon footprint than flying or driving.’”

#3 Shop Less

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

Over the last several decades, our consumption as Americans has increased astronomically. In an article for The Conversation, Jennifer Ellen Good writes that “the average person’s consumption of stuff has doubled in the past 50 years” in the United States. The mass consumption by citizens of “developed” countries has resulted in “massive-scale logging of the Earth’s forests, leaving just three per cent of the world’s ecosystems intact.” Of course, buying tons of stuff means creating tons of waste. Good notes that “the widespread production, use and disposal of plastics has deposited about eight million tonnes of plastic waste into the world’s oceans each year.” Renee Cho echoes this in the article “How Buying Stuff Drives Climate Change” for Columbia Climate School’s State of the Planet series. Referencing a study conducted by Earth Institute scientist Christoph Meinrenken, Cho writes that “across its life cycle, the average product results in carbon emissions of 6.3 times its own weight.” 

Why Buying Less Stuff Matters During the Holidays

During the holidays, the amount of waste and emissions we produce skyrockets. Jennifer Ellen Good notes that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans “discard half their yearly paper waste…totalling about eight billion tonnes.” At Living Deep, we believe strongly in buying less and buying for life. Terry Nguyen explains why this is a critical element of celebrating the holidays more sustainably in her article “It’s time for Americans to buy less stuff” for Vox. Nguyen writes that reducing your carbon footprint inevitably “requires more frugal sacrifices than buying less stuff…but it’s a good place to start.” Many of us bemoan the supply chain issues, labor shortages and bad weather that have limited stock in grocery stores and delayed arrival of our online orders. 

However, Nguyen writes that this year’s holiday season might actually offer “a bizarre, supply-chain-induced opportunity to change our shopping habits, to give more thoughtfully, to buy more locally and less overall.” Though most American households are “hard-wired to splurge on end-of-year gifts, and it’s unlikely people will ever stop even if the crisis worsens…the supply chain issues can lead us to buy more conscientiously.” Unlike some other climate actions, consuming more thoughtfully is attainable for most Americans. Nguyen notes that “the mission to buy less with more intention is achievable for everyone, especially affluent shoppers.” Given that Americans are “the wealthiest people in the world,” it is incumbent upon each of us “to cut back on and be critical of [our] consumption” – especially during the holidays. To help yourself buy less, set a budget – focusing less on money spent and more on the number of items purchased. Opt for recipes with fewer ingredients, gift experiences rather than things and choose holiday activities that are minimally wasteful.

#4 Gift Experiences Instead of Things

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

Many of us have felt anxiety, pressure and even fear when faced with finding the perfect present for colleagues, friends and family during the holidays. In her 2006 paper for Santa Clara University's Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture, attorney and professor Dr. Sunwolf, Ph.D., J.D. describes this as “the shadow side of social gift-giving.” Dr. Sunwolf writes that every gift we give – especially during the holidays – “creates two social obligations for the receiver: Gift Gratitude and Gift Debt.”  Each party involved in the “gift transaction” knows that ignoring either social obligation could result in a “relational cost.” 

Research from the early 2000s actually found that gift-giving can “affect the duration of relationships” because it is inexorably tied to either met or unmet expectations. Dr. Sunwolf writes that the winter holidays are especially high-stakes. She notes that “formal occasions such as Christmas trigger elaborate gift-giving rules that are unspoken yet must be socially communicated” and properly met. Christmas is particularly triggering because we open gifts in front of others and later compare what we received with what we wanted, what we expected or what other guests got. This “anticipated public judgement” and social consequence breeds anxiety during the holidays. 

Most Americans Receive Unwanted Gifts Every Year 

The sad truth is that a majority of Americans receive unwanted holiday gifts each year. In his article “You're wasting money on unwanted gifts” for USA Today, Sean Rossman writes that “more than $9.5 billion is estimated to be wasted on unwanted gifts each year.” The average gift-giver actually “wastes $71 on gifts no one wants” annually and more than half of all Americans “don't like at least one gift every Christmas and receive about two undesirable gifts every year.” 

While gifting material objects has long been a symbol of wealth and status, attitudes amongst American consumers appear to be changing. In the article “How Buying Stuff Drives Climate Change” for Columbia Climate School’s State of the Planet series, Renee Cho writes that “the number one change people said they wanted to maintain after the pandemic was to reduce their consumerism.” This year, those of us who celebrate the winter holidays can respect this wish by giving experiences instead of physical presents.

Tips for Sustainable Gift-Giving

Thankfully, there are a number of environmentally friendly ways to exchange gifts during the holidays. Of course, the first step in sustainable gift-giving is getting each recipient on your list something they will actually enjoy. Tik Root offers a number of suggestions in the Washington Post article “Sustainable gift-giving is on the rise. Here are a few ideas for the holiday season.” Root writes that one way to limit waste while ensuring a friend or family member receives what they want is to “pool resources for specific gifts.” 

If one member of your circle of friends wants an expensive hand-crafted rug for her bedroom – for example – the entire group can contribute to buy her that exact piece instead of buying a bunch of smaller things she might not want nor need. Alternatively, “time can be a valuable gift to people.” Offering to babysit a friend’s children, learning a new skill with your partner or fixing something special that has broken down can all be incredibly meaningful gifts. Lastly, gift-givers might consider digital subscriptions, online memberships and/or tickets to virtual events.

#5 Buy a Real Tree from Sustainable Sources

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

Though this might come as a surprise to many, buying a real Christmas tree each year might be more environmentally friendly than putting up an artificial one. This is in part because fresh Christmas trees are often grown locally – or at least domestically – while artificial trees tend to be produced overseas. As we mentioned above, purchasing imported goods often comes with a more significant carbon footprint. Another reason fresh trees can be more sustainable and eco-friendly is because artificial trees are often made from materials that are difficult if not impossible to recycle. Rachel Muir explains in her article “It's the most wasteful time of the year” for South West Londoner. Muir writes that “the general consensus is that you will have to use an artificial Christmas tree for 10 years or more for it to have an environmental impact lower than that of a real tree.” 

Citing data from the Carbon Trust, Muir writes that disposing of a “two metre-tall artificial tree emits around 40kg of CO2.” This represents ten times the emissions produced by a “real tree that’s burned after Christmas.” Buying a locally-grown fresh-cut Christmas tree is likely your best bet, Muir notes. Not only do real Christmas trees produce fewer emissions at end of life, but they also “have a positive environmental impact” as they grow. Each Christmas tree takes at least a decade to grow to full-size – about six feet tall. During this period, Christmas trees create green spaces and “provide a habitat for wildlife and capture carbon from the atmosphere.” Buying a real, locally-grown tree and disposing of it properly after the holiday season has ended significantly reduces your tree’s environmental impact.

#6 Switch to LED Christmas Lights with Timers

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

 In a shocking report for NPR back in 2015, Marc Silver noted that Americans burn “6.63 billion kilowatt-hours” just to power our Christmas lights each winter. The Central American nation of El Salvador, on the other hand, “uses 5.35 billion kilowatt-hours” in an entire year. Tanzania burns 4.8 billion, Ethiopia 5.3 billion and Nepal 3.28 billion kilowatt-hours each year – according to data from the World Bank. Powering Christmas lights for a few weeks each year not only consumes massive amounts of energy but also produces outsized carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. 

Writing for Forbes in his 2020 article “The Energy To Light Christmas,” James Conca notes that “powering [Christmas] lights emits almost 2 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.” Thankfully, there are easy ways to reduce your energy consumption and emissions output during the holidays. Conca writes that simply switching to “LED bulbs in those lights, the amount of power drawn by them drops by 75%.” Hooking your lights up to a timer can also make a huge difference.

#7 Cut Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

In their article “Is Christmas Killing the Planet?” for Psychology Today, Drs Raj Persaud, M.D. and Peter Bruggen, M.D. write that “Christmas accounts for 5.5 percent of annual household carbon dioxide emissions.” This is shocking given that Christmas “amounts to less than 1 percent of the year.” Research from 2018 found that our energy consumption increases by thirty percent during Christmas each year because of inefficient appliances, holiday lights and more. Changing the ways in which we prepare holiday meals can not only reduce our energy consumption but also cut our carbon footprint in other forms. It might even leave us with fewer digestive issues after the holidays!

For example, eating less meat and buying fewer dairy products during the holidays can lessen the greenhouse gas emissions you produce. Given that as much as twenty percent of our fruits and vegetables are tossed out solely for cosmetic flaws, picking “ugly” produce can also help lower your environmental impact. Preparing more fresh dishes – like salads, crudités, etc. – than cooked dishes is another way to reduce emissions. Lastly, using electrical rather than gas-powered appliances and cooking multiple dishes under pressure could also help. According to Fermin Koop in a recent article for ZME Science, “using an electric grill is a good alternative to roasting or grilling in the oven since it consumes half of the energy.” Koop also recommends pressure cooking holiday dishes, noting that this is “an efficient way of cooking meat, pulses, potatoes, and vegetables because the cooking time is substantially shortened.”

#8 Choose Extended Delivery When Shopping Online

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

Many of us assume that shopping in stores is more sustainable than shopping online, but this is not necessarily true. The amount of energy and other resources involved in transporting products to the store, driving yourself there and back, making multiple or last minute trips, etc. can all make shopping in person less sustainable. Tim Heffernan explains in his article “How to Shop Online More Sustainably” for Wirecutter from The New York Times. Heffernan writes that “the consensus among independent researchers is that online shopping can in fact be much less damaging to the environment than traditional, in-store shopping.” 

However, this is only true if we shop online “the right way.” Just like a quick last-minute trip made to the grocery store for one missing ingredient, “‘the evil comes from abuse of e-commerce because it’s so convenient.’” According to Heffernan, “shopping exclusively online is about 87% more efficient than doing all of your shopping in-store, in terms of CO₂ emissions and vehicle-miles traveled.” Shopping online is usually the most eco-friendly option when we make group purchases, avoid next-day delivery and completely substitute online for in-store rather than supplementing.

#9 Send Virtual Christmas Cards and New Year’s Wishes

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

In our recent post “How to Throw a Zero-Waste Dinner Party During the Holidays,” we noted that sending Christmas and New Year’s cards in the mail can be disastrous for our environment. Writing for Brightly in her article “Is Our Greeting Card Obsession Harming the Planet?,” Kylie Fuller references data from a study conducted by researchers at Exeter University. According to this study, “sending one card produces about 140 grams (0.3086472 pounds) of carbon dioxide.” Americans alone send out “around 1.3 billion holiday cards a year.” Unfortunately, this amounts to “the same amount of CO2 emissions as charging 22 billion smartphones or 22,000 homes' energy use for one year.” 

Well-wishers can either send their Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and New Year’s cards virtually or opt for more sustainable alternatives in order to reduce emissions. Of course, we love holiday cards from Living Deep’s sustainable stationery brand Flowerink. Flowerink creates holiday cards made from 100% recycled post-consumer material that is embedded with wildflower seeds you can plant after reading. Sending paperless cards online is a great option too. With digital Christmas and New Year’s cards, you can also add video and/or voice messages.

#10 Include Sustainability in Your List of New Year’s Resolutions

tips for a more sustainable holiday season

Last on our list of tips for protecting your mental health and coping with eco anxiety during the holidays is to include sustainability in your list of New Year’s resolutions. From promising to advocate for indigenous communities most at risk of climate disaster to reducing the plastic waste you personally produce, there are so many ways to make a difference next year. 

In her article “13 eco-friendly New Year's resolutions for a greener 2022” for Country Living, Emma-Louise Pritchard recommends aiming to eat less meat, alter travel plans and swap clothes with friends and family instead of buying new pieces. Shopping with reusable bags, remembering to unplug appliances, light fixtures and other devices can also reduce emissions and limit waste production. Cutting out paper products like disposable napkins and towels while reusing takeout containers is another great resolution for the new year. Consider composting and growing your own produce and/or making relationships with local vendors to make 2022 more sustainable for you and your family.

Happy New Year from All of Us at Living Deep

During the winter holidays, buying less – and buying for the long-term – can feel like an insurmountable challenge. As we head into the New Year, all of us at Living Deep want to take a moment to thank our readers and customers for supporting sustainability initiatives. We appreciate your commitment to conscious consumerism and environmental responsibility – both of which are key pillars of the Living Deep mission. Happy holidays to you and yours. We hope the new year brings you health, happiness and hope for the future of our planet.

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