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EcoConnections: Gen Z Discussion on Eco-Anxiety at Catawba College

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Center of the Environment at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. The Center for the Environment hosts the National High School Environmental Youth Summit each year.

Led by Professor John Wear, the Center inspires students with exciting interdisciplinary classes and brings national environmental leaders to the campus to address wide-ranging issues in sustainability.

For the past year, I've been researching the psychological impacts of the climate crisis. The feeling of overwhelm that many people experience when they face the truth of our rapidly changing climate can lead to despair -- especially for young people. The round table of discussion at Catawba, including two college students, a high school student, and a college counselor.

Check out the conversation here:

Zoom Panel Discussion at Catawba College, Center for the Environment: The Eco-Anxiety Epidemic: The Mental Health Crisis We Aren't Talking bout & How We Can Help, 2/25/21.

We talked about how Generation Z is impacted by the climate crisis in a profound way, and how the cascading challenges of 2020 has stressed young people's mental health. The conversation was fast-paced, inspiring, and vulnerable.

One student, Taylor Marshall, said that the past year has been "a lot." Taylor is a double major in Business Administration and Environment & Sustainability with concentrations in entrepreneurship and environmental policy and advocacy. She's passionate about farming, regenerative practices, and natural medicine.

Taylor asked inequity and whether talking about taking action daily was "rainbows and unicorns" when we have such a need for big, comprehensive change. She also asked how we can focus on conversation and dialogue to get people who disagree to agree to take action on the environment.

Maggie Dees, a senior at Salem Academy, and contributor to the Eco-Anxiety Blog shared her experiences with eco-anxiety and how organizing on her campus has been a powerful tool for handling the mental heath impacts of the climate crisis. Maggie plans to major in Environmental Studies and aims to research public health and the environment in low-income areas around the world after college. In addition to interning at OneGreenThing, Maggie has interned at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The panelists agreed that we have to have big solutions to the climate crisis, economic and racial inequity, and that all these issues are interconnected. We also came to consensus that daily action can ease anxiety and create momentum for culture change. We agreed that intergenerational conversations like the one we had last week could move the need, but that it'll take more than one discussion to help other generations understand the anguish of Gen Z about the future.

Another student, Nina MacKinnon, said to those with eco-anxiety "I see you, I hear you." Nina is a an Environmental and Sustainability student at Catawba. She's interested in sustainable design and agriculture and advocacy. Nina reminded us that environmental science students feel the pain of the climate crisis intensely. She noted that they support each other through informally through action and acknowledgement of their worry.

Lauren Stephenson, a counselor at Catawba, recommended that we monitor our social media intake, put our phones down, and go outside. Mindfulness, exercise, and community connection can help alleviate eco-anxiety. Lauren works with clients on a wide array of mental health issues including depression/anxiety, mood disorders, school and work related stress. She underscored that these feelings of anxiety about the state of the world are very real and that if they disrupt day-to-day life, people should seek professional support.

I talked about how to tackle the eco-anxiety trifecta (general anxiety, loneliness, environmental stress). Action an abate anxiety, connection can limit loneliness, and policy action can alleviate environmental stress.

By creating a daily practice of sustainability we can make a difference by driving culture change for policy solutions. Dr. Wear encouraged us all to keep reaching out to the community, taking action, and having conversations like this one.

I left the conversation energized and full of hope that we can create a greener healthier, more equitable future.

Check out the conversation here:


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