From fires to floods, Australia sees its fair share of natural disasters. And as scary as environmental threats can be for us as adults, it can be even more extreme for our children.
In 2017, the American Psychological Association coined the term ‘eco-anxiety’ to describe the “chronic fear of environmental doom”.
Education expert and yoga teacher Beth Borowsky says, after teaching school mindfulness workshops through her business, The Karma Class, it’s a phenomenon she is all too familiar with.
“It’s a term used for anxiety that arises from eco-related incidents,” says Beth. “Climate change is the big one, but we could look at drought followed by bushfires followed by floods followed by horrific storms and hail. The symptoms and feelings are similar to general anxiety, only they’re related to the environment.”
So, how can you tell if your child is struggling with eco-anxiety?
Like anxiety, eco-anxiety can manifest physically and mentally: feelings of hopelessness, fear and a ‘what’s the point?’ attitude, along with loss of appetite, lack of sleep, withdrawal, agitation and nervousness.
“The statistics show that rates of eco-anxiety amongst under 25-year-olds are on the rise,” says Beth. “While children aren’t necessarily more susceptible, they are the ones who will live through the effects of climate change, and their concerns are very real.”
With so much exposure to the global conversation about climate change, through smart devices and social media, there are few places for children to escape.
“There is a lot of hype – especially when one of the people leading the movement is a child herself,” says Beth. “Greta Thunberg’s voice was so powerful last year, and the young children watching her can relate to her message.
“It’s not an illusive topic anymore – kids are taking to the streets to protest, and they started school this year traumatised but galvanised from the recent bushfires.”
What can trigger eco-anxiety, and how can those triggers be managed?
Many Australian children are living through fear, loss and trauma, and these direct triggers are hard to protect children from.
Even for those children who haven’t been directly affected by the bushfires, the relentless smoke, social media, news and adult conversations going on around them can become overwhelming.
“It’s a tricky one,” admits Beth. “On one level, awareness of these kinds of issues can be fantastic. When it’s so close to home, however, there are very few ways parents can limit their children’s exposure to tragedies.”
Instead, Beth encourages developing resilience.
“When devastating natural disasters are happening, you can’t protect anyone from it,” says Beth. “What’s most important is to maintain hope, have positive conversations with your children and come up with a list of actions to get involved and do your bit.”
These actions could include coming up with ways your family can minimise your effect on the environment, getting involved with a youth group or doing further research together.
“When done constructively, age-appropriately and productively, talking about things in a hopeful way will be the most helpful way to minimise their eco-anxiety,” says Beth. “It’s less about protection, and more about education. You can’t shelter them forever, but you can give them the tools to manage their emotions.”
What can be done outside of home?
Your impact as a parent can be profound, but Beth recommends a multi-faceted approach – this means getting your child’s school on board, too.
“Talking as a mum, schools need to be active agents in engaging our children in current affairs,” says Beth, who has a Masters in Early Childhood Education and worked as a Montessori preschool teacher. “When done in a very proactive way, through discussions about how we can play our part, creating a school and classroom action plan and starting a petition, school input can make a profound difference.”
Through her experience as a course creator for Australian Curriculum Enhancement, Beth has pinpointed the educational gaps that can allow eco-anxiety to manifest.
“There needs to be more of a focus on bringing wellness into the classroom,” says Beth. “I would like to see a strong shift towards introducing breathing, mindfulness and yoga to develop those tools.”
“Breathing is a science – a magic that children can access and use to affect their nervous system and change the fear or anxiety they’re feeling. I want to encourage teachers to help their children to move, stretch and meditate, as this can be the key to developing resilience.”
To find out more about the Karma Class…
Beth offers two results-oriented workshops – her ‘Karma Classrooms’ and her ‘Karma Kids Yoga’. The Karma Classroom aims to create inspired, resilient learning environments delivered to teachers through NESA-accredited training courses or implemented school-wide through principals or heads of department. Karma Kids Yoga is yoga-based mind, body and breathing techniques delivered by our specially trained practitioners for preschool programs or as part of the Karma Classrooms program for primary school students.
Check out the ‘Balloon Breathing’ card from Beth’s ‘Karma Class Deck’