Eco-anxiety from the state of the world and the ongoing trauma that racism inflicts causes so much stress. Here are some scientific studies analyzing it + how I’m coping with it.
Yesterday was a regular day as we’re slowly settling into our homeschool routine and celebrating the start of fall. I’ve been “homeschooling since birth,” as I usually say with much excitement, and this is our first year with official curriculum since my son is officially PreK age. I’m homeschooling in hopes to teach my son the true history of our world and his true potential as caring human being. It is one of the most exciting and important endeavors that I have ever taken on.
I hope to homeschool him until he has completed his secondary education and goes on to do whatever he chooses. But for now, he’s four, and yesterday we completed our school day like any other day. He had a tantrum or two – nothing unusual. He spilled water and played in it. Lunch was a compilation of healthy snacks, not what you’d call a real meal, because that’s what he asked for. And on that same regular degular day, Breonna Taylor’s murderers were not charged with her murder. The walls connected to her white neighbor’s home (not her other neighbors, who happen to be Black) will receive more justice than Breonna Taylor. The crime that caused her death will see no justice… which is just like a regular day for Black people in America, isn’t it. And it was a reminder of all the things that I care so strongly about, for which it is regular to see them destroyed with no regard.
It was a regular day, just like the day I found out about the murder of Breonnna Taylor.
It was a regular day, just like the day I stepped outside to take photos for a sustainable brand partnership and saw plumes of black smoke from 4 miles away as piles of plastic burned and contaminated the air of North Texas.
It was a regular day, just like the day so many people posted the video of George Floyd begging for his life before he ultimately was murdered.
It was a regular day, just like the days that the 45th President took the time to undo years of environmental protections for his lil friends and their million dollar schemes that destroy the Earth’s natural systems, which we need to survive.
It was a regular day, just like the day, as a child, I learned the history about the murder of and the result of no justice being served for Emmett Till. And then the day, as an adult, I learned that the woman lied, is still alive, and has never been punished… and to take it further, the day his murderers were acquitted and celebrated was the exact same day, 65 years later, that the Kentucky DA announced the results of the investigation into what happened when Breonna Taylor was killed. Those results held no one accountable, and seemed to protect a racist system and not the people it was created to protect – people like Breonna Taylor.
It was a regular day, just like the day that several businesses sued the city of Dallas in order to continue the use of plastic bags after the city had just banned them for the environment.
Regular days can be so damn traumatic and stressful when taking in news about the environment and racism.
Some days, the stress from racism and eco-anxiety are just too much. It can be a real soul-crushing burden to bear when you are aware of and concerned about them. I wanted to share my experience as a Black woman (as written above), as well as some health articles that speak to how racism and eco-anxiety can result in stress.
Social media can amplify that stress because stories of racially motivated horrors and climate crises are constantly being shared in order to raise awareness. It’s beneficial that these stories are no longer swept under the rug, but there are so many stories that it becomes overwhelming when learning about all of them.
I’m grateful for a community that continuously shares more than the negative views and that is passionate about actively making changes so that the negative stressors are lifted off of us. As has been the story for generation after generation of Black people in America, we may not see the changes we fight so hard for, but we know those after us will benefit from them and will continue fighting.
I must also note that I am not a doctor. These are my personal thoughts and experiences, plus what I have been able to synthesize from articles that I was able to find through internet research.
Stress & Racism
An NPR article, “Scientists Start To Tease Out The Subtler Ways Racism Hurts Health,” shares both experiences of professionals and studies that scientists and doctors are conducting in regards to how racism impacts our health. Wealth, education, and lifestyle do not make one exempt from racial injustices. Social epidemiologist Amani M. Allen (née Nuru-Jeter), Ph.D., MPH, is working to define the connections between racism and asthma, or racism and Type 2 Diabetes. “Nuru-Jeter and others hypothesize that chronic stress might be a key way racism contributes to health disparities. The idea is that the stress of experiencing discrimination over and over might wear you down physically over time.” Despite being studied for years, I believe that it will take a concrete and scientifically defined connection for more people to believe that racism is still alive and still causes so much harm to people. I guess their empathy bones are missing. And even with scientific evidence, some still won’t believe it. That’s stressful just thinking about how much people pretend that these injustices do not exist.
Dana Winley, Ph.D. shares some very helpful resources and thoughts regarding racial trauma in the Psychology Today article, “Racial Trauma Is a Public Health Emergency.” A client once told her that being Black in America and seeing the onslaught of hate crimes against Black people made them feel “unwanted.” I felt that in my soul.
A study titled “Physiological Correlates of Race-Related Stress and Health Among African Americans and Latinos” conducted by Daniel Cruz at Seton Hall University hypothesized that race related stressors would cause predictable physical health symptoms. In the end, the study concluded that “the results of this study indicate that both African-Americans and Latinos are negatively affected by in vivo racism which is often experience on a frequent basis.”
Stress & Eco-Anxiety
The Indian Health Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has an article called “Mental health effects of climate change,” which dives into many reasons as to how mental health is altered when climate change actually impacts people’s livelihoods. Some of the subjects include “drought and farmer suicide,” “ambient temperature and effect on mental health,” and “psychological consequence due to climate related disasters.” This article concludes that being directly impacted by climate change does indeed alter one’s mental health and that measures should be taken to provide mental health access to those impacted by climate change, and that measures should be taken to fight climate change.
A BBC Future article, as part of their Climate Emotions series, dives into how worrying about the environment can alone impact one’s mental health, as well. In “The harm from worrying about climate change,” Christine Ro shares her talk with Susan Clayton, a psychology professor in the UK who studies “children’s attitudes towards climate change.”
Elizabeth Wathuti is a climate activist in Kenya, and in an interview for The Guardian, “‘Overwhelming and terrifying’: the rise of climate anxiety” said that she hears “We won’t die of old age, we’ll die from climate change,” the most from the students that she works with. In Kenya, they are living with the real-time disasters that are the result of climate crisis. It has resulted in people turning to negative coping mechanisms, such as alcoholism and drug abuse, and has caused people to suffer from depression and eco-anxiety. Wathuti started the Green Generation Initiative to address environmental issues while providing environmental education to children in the process in Kenya, being an active part of the solution and teaching others to do the same.
Coping with Stress from Racism & Eco-Anxiety
Medical News Today suggests taking action, fostering a connection with nature, and getting active in order to cope with eco-anxiety in the article “What to know about eco-anxiety” by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP.
An article posted on Psychology Today, “Proactively Coping with Racism,” written by Ryan C.T. DeLapp, MA and Monnica T. Williams, Ph.D., suggests “briefly limiting one’s exposure to cues of racism” (i.e. social media and news), participating in activities that help you to rest and relax, turning to spirituality, and to always use adaptive coping mechanism because this is an ongoing process.
Coping while also actively trying to fight these crises of racism and the climate crisis is hella difficult, so I try to be intentional about it so that I am taking care of myself. It is my hope that, by sharing information through my platforms, I am helping someone else to take care of themselves and continue to advocate for change in whatever manner is best for them. I hope this article has helped you in some way today.
NPR | “Scientists Start To Tease Out The Subtler Ways Racism Hurts Health” – https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/11/11/562623815/scientists-start-to-tease-out-the-subtler-ways-racism-hurts-health
Psychology Today | “Racial Trauma Is a Public Health Emergency” – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/take-care-black-women/202006/racial-trauma-is-public-health-emergency
Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses | “Physiological Correlates of Race-Related Stress and Health Among African Americans and Latinos” – https://scholarship.shu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2656&context=dissertations
The Indian Health Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine | “Mental health effects of climate change” – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446935/
BBC Future | “The harm from worrying about climate change” – https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20191010-how-to-beat-anxiety-about-climate-change-and-eco-awareness
The Guardian | “‘Overwhelming and terrifying’: the rise of climate anxiety” – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/10/overwhelming-and-terrifying-impact-of-climate-crisis-on-mental-health
Medical News Today | “What to know about eco-anxiety” – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327354
Psychology Today |”Proactively Coping with Racism” – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201607/proactively-coping-racism