I’ve lived with anxiety since I was about 10 years old. So you might wonder why I’ve chosen to spend the past six years as the Director of Hope for the Future, working on one of the most threatening issues the human species has ever faced. Well, like a lot of people, I find doing something about climate change helpful for managing eco-anxiety. But what can you do when you’re already doing everything you can, or you haven’t got the energy to do more? Or what if acting on climate change is less accessible for you in general?
A couple of months ago Hope for the Future ran an eco-anxiety webinar interviewing 21 year old Clover Hogan, a climate activist of ten years and founder of Force of Nature. Towards the end of the webinar we asked Clover, ‘How have you avoided burnout?’. You might expect an answer along the lines of: practice self-care, get your support networks around you, create boundaries around distressing information…all good things of course!
But instead Clover advised, ‘Remember this isn’t all about you. Let go of a saviour complex. If your sense of self is all tied up in hitting that 2030 emissions deadline where does that leave you if we fail?’
Clover was essentially saying: don’t mistake your cause for who you are.
I believe this is why the practice of praying for the climate emergency is so important. In prayer, we can reconnect with our trust that we are already part of what God is doing in the world, and leave our ego at the door. Because the truth is, with regards to climate change, none of us can ever do enough, really. At a certain stage most of us will encounter fatigue, or discouragement. And for some that can mean disengaging all together, because they have put climate activism at the centre of who they are.
So, during prayer, I would encourage you to practice laying your concerns down before God. You might wish to light a candle, write something down, or briefly say them out loud.
And then, let it go.
Let everything go, and focus instead on something that can help ground you in your present reality, such as your breath. You may, for example, want to imagine that you are breathing in God’s love, and breathing out your anxieties, releasing them from your mind and body. Sometimes when you come to pray in this way you may experience an intensifying of your fears as they rush in, now that they are given the space to surface. If you can, let them be without trying to understand, analyse or resolve them. Return to your breath. This practice, known also as meditative or contemplative prayer, is scientifically proven to bring all sorts of benefits including improved memory, reduced blood pressure, and even increased pain thresholds. But it is particularly helpful for those of us living with mental health difficulties. And as the unravelling of the planet becomes more and more apparent, that will be more and more of us- over two-thirds of young people are already reporting that they experience eco-anxiety. So if you are regularly encountering intrusive thoughts or unpleasant bodily sensations due to eco-anxiety, know that you are not alone. And if this is the case, I would encourage you to practice prayer of this nature for at least ten minutes, every day.
At first, meditative prayer was something I did when I ran out things to do which would make me feel better about climate change. But before long it became something I knew I needed to do every day. Because, whilst meditative prayer is a much needed break from doing, it is far from doing nothing. Instead, it is about allowing ourselves to be nourished deeply by God, simply by letting go of all our stories about who we are and what we think we’re doing in the world. Ultimately, this time of prayer is the act of stopping trying to stop climate change, so that we can cultivate the deep faith that is needed as we work to address this global emergency for the long-haul. It has helped me enormously, and I hope you might find it helpful also.
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Written by Jo Musker-Sherwood. Jo Musker-Sherwood is a former SCM staff member and now Director of the climate change charity, Hope for the Future. Jo is currently undertaking a sabbatical researching eco-anxiety. She lives in Sheffield, close to the National Peak District which provides plenty of inspiration for her work.