The other day, my 11 year-old son asked me to stop listening to the news because the stories about climate change make him feel anxious and scared. Although my partner and I do our best to be careful about the media we watch around him, clearly we weren’t being careful enough.
Eco-anxiety can be characterized by symptoms such as depression, anxiety, rumination, and insomnia, and as many parents or caregivers can surely confirm, children are increasingly experiencing these symptoms.
As I searched for resources to combat this eco-anxiety, I began considering how religious or spiritual worldviews may help all of us manage the difficult feelings we experience when faced with almost constant news of the global climate crisis.
Of course, as a researcher whose interests lie at the intersection of religious literacy and education, and as a founding member of CCRL, I had some idea of the diverse ways religious or spiritual leaders and communities are responding to climate change. I know about interfaith initiatives such as the Parliament of World’s Religions’ commitment to climate action, and GreenFaith, but in considering the specific question of how to address eco-anxiety in our children, I began to appreciate the profound ways in which religion and spirituality may be mobilized to address this growing problem.
Coping with eco-anxiety
Scholars have outlined four techniques to manage or cope with rising eco-anxiety:
- Time out;
- Seek hope;
- Take action.
While I don’t recommend these in the place of working with a mental health expert, I do believe religious or spiritual traditions may address all four of these techniques, because:
First, up to 80% of the global population affiliates with a faith community, which means there is great potential for religious leaders to address problems such as eco-anxiety. Indeed, it’s heartening to see religious leaders such as Pope Francis’ and other Christian leaders’ recent strong calls for climate action.
Second, religious or spiritual communities frequently provide a welcoming space for individuals to find moments of peace and reflection – something that can help children as much as it helps adults.
Third, a recent report from the UN Environment Programme and the Faith for Earth Coalition provides ample evidence of the contributions global faith communities are making to address climate change. Knowledge that there are many religious communities collaborating to address environmental issues can provide us all with reasons to feel hopeful, rather than anxious.
Finally, religious or spiritual communities play a key role in offering youth opportunities to take action on climate change, whether its through interfaith initiatives such as Faith & the Common Good or the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, Indigenous led projects for youth engagement such as the Keepers of the Water, or specific religious community initiatives, such as the Sikh Environmental Leadership Program, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Green initiative, Hazon’s Jewish Youth Climate Movement, or the Bhumi Global Young Environmental Changemakers movement, to name but a few.
An approach towards solutions and hope
My son is not the only child – or person – to struggle with eco-anxiety. As we are faced with this emerging societal problem, the failure to look to religious communities for potential solutions is a significant omission. The religious literacy framework clearly shows that religions, spiritual, and non-religious communities are influential players in society, and are impacted by all parts of society too. By including religious identities in conversations about societal problems such as combatting eco-anxiety, religious literacy provides a framework and a tool for creating solutions – and hope!