Worried about the state of the environment and our planet’s future? This "eco-anxiety" can turn a conscientious citizen into a nervous wreck. Plenty magazine contributor Liz Galst discusses her bout of eco-angst with host Bruce Gellerman and "eco-therapist" Linda Buzzell-Saltzman.
GELLERMAN: Worried about the world’s environment? You’re not alone.
MAN: Bovine growth hormones in milk! Lead in my water. What’s next? Fertilizer in my beer?
WOMAN: I don’t even know what toilet paper to by anymore.
MAN: There’s mold in the air ducts at work (cough) I can’t breath anymore.
WOMAN: I just saw Al Gore’s movie. I’m so overwhelmed. Is it because of the environment, or is it Al Gore’s hair?
MAN: I blame the chemical companies!
GELLERMAN: And you thought you felt bad? But seriously, worrying about the world’s environmental problems can be stressful. It certainly affected journalist Liz Galst. She wrote an article about eco-anxiety in the current issue of Plenty magazine.
She joins me from New York. Hi, Liz.
GALST: Hello, how are you?
GELLERMAN: I’m fine thank you. You know you don’t sound so fine in your article though. You have a bad case of eco-anxiety syndrome.
GALST: Yeah, I was really suffering, I think. I was really anxious and preoccupied and very concerned about global warming and other ecological crisis but I was taking it to an extreme.
GELLERMAN: Well, what specifically was causing these symptoms?
GALST: Well, as a journalist I have done a lot of reporting on global warming. And so I think part of what was causing it was just being really inundated with a lot of very distressing scientific information about what’s happening to the planet. And by extension to us, or what may well happen to us. And I think also being a new parent and I think having a different relationship to the future than I did in the past. So predictions that climatologists were making about what would happen 50 years from now had a different meaning to me all of the sudden.
GELLERMAN: You mention that you are a new parent. I look at my two kids and I think, boy what kind of world are we giving them?
GALST: Yeah, I mean it’s quite frightening and I think adding to my anxiety was this sense of isolation with the information. Not too many people around me seemed to be the least bit bothered by any of this. And so, I think the isolation of that feeling really contributed to my anxiety as well.
GELLERMAN: Liz, how did this anxiety affect your daily life?
GALST: I was often really preoccupied. I was sort of distracted by what felt like a very present threat. And I had trouble sleeping. Among other things, I would walk around the apartment turning off the lights. You know, I had all of these fantasies about how I could take all of these humongous steps that would really make a difference. Like I could win the lottery, and I could underwrite some renewable energy technology that needed some start-up funding. I just wasn’t able to really be in the present in the way that I am now.
GELLERMAN: Liz Galst, in your article, Global Worrying, in Plenty Magazine, you cite an ecotherapist, Linda Buzzel-Saltzman, she’s based in Santa Barbara, California, and I thought that we’d call her up and see if she can help us overcome some of these global worries.
GELLERMAN: Linda Buzzel-Saltzman?
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: Yes, this is she.
GELLERMAN: Hi, this is Bruce Gellerman from Living on Earth
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: Hi Bruce.
GELLERMAN: I’ve got Liz Galst on the line as well.
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: Hello to Liz.
GALST: Hello, it’s nice to talk to you again.
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: It is.
GELLERMAN: Precisely what is an eco-therapist?
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: An eco-therapist is a psychotherapist who treats not only human-human relationships but also the human-nature relationship, and views that as an important part of all of our lives.
GELLERMAN: So, somebody comes to you and they: say nuclear waste, ocean dead zones, disappearing forests. Help me! What do you do?
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: Well, usually people don’t come in with that particular complaint. Usually people come in with all the normal stuff that everyone complains about. The anxiety, feeling depressed, feeling worried about things in their life. And eco-therapists in addition to doing all of the things that regular psychotherapists do, also ask some questions about the person’s relationship with nature. And whether they spend all day indoors, and if their lifestyle is particularly stressful and are they living a natural life.
GELLERMAN: Liz Galst, do you have a question for Linda Buzzell-Saltzman? Perhaps she can offer us some therapy.
GALST: Sure. Say like me, somebody is wandering around feeling extremely anxious on a regular basis about the state of our environment -- be it global warming or some other environmental crisis like the problem with fresh drinking water -- do you have any suggestions?
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: Well, I think it’s totally normal to get angry at some of what’s going on in the world. And there’s something that I call the waking up syndrome, which has to do with coming out of denial. And when we do, when we come out of denial, there’s a lot of emotion that comes with that. It can be anger, it can be anxiety, it can be depression, it can be feeling overwhelmed. And I try and work with my clients to help them move through that first phase of all this emotion and then move into some of the solutions to the problem. Getting people into action. Lowering their anxiety. Getting them involved in creating and building an alternative world. The whole issue of feeling so isolated with this really makes the anxiety worse.
So starting to talk to someone else and get active in a group situation. Doing something about the environment really is the beginning of healing.
GELLERMAN: So, the idea is actually try to do something.
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: That’s right. Because otherwise people feel really helpless and then the worst thing that can happen is they begin to despair and feel hopeless.
GALST: I think I feel better about the future because of some steps that I took in my own life. One of them is getting involved in a group that takes environmental action. And we got our synagogue to switch to green power, here in New York City. And we also encouraged members, themselves, to switch to green power, and now more than 10 percent of our households have switched to green power. I think that was what was most helpful about getting involved with a group in my synagogue is it gave me a place to be concerned with other people who were concerned. And that sort of brought me out of my isolation a lot. And I feel better about the future because it seems that the rest of the American public is catching up to my own concerns.
GELLERMAN: Well, Linda Buzzel-Saltzman, how does Liz Galst sound to you? Sound like she’s making progress?
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: Liz is doing wonderfully. I’d like to chime in and say how much I appreciate that she is taking action and she is creating a world, a better world for her children.
GELLERMAN: You know, when I was growing up there was a bumper sticker that said, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the pollution.”
GALST: Maybe we should also, I’ve always wanted to get those bumper stickers to stick on SUV’s that say, “I’m changing the climate. Ask me how.”
GALST: Wow. [laughs]
GELLERMAN: Well, Liz Galst and Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, thank you very much.
GALST: It’s been a pleasure.
BUZZEL-SALTZMAN: Thank you.
GELLERMAN: Liz Galst is a writer in New York. Her article “Global Worrying” is in a recent issue of Plenty Magazine. Linda Buzzel-Saltzman is an eco-therapist based in Santa Barbara, California.
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