Wildfire is a vital ecological process, but it can be dangerous. It’s also a tangible reminder of how our climate is changing around us. Therefore, living in areas impacted by wildfire can be stressful on many levels, and individuals may experience eco-anxiety – or even eco-grief – in response.
On the latest episode of the Living With Fire Podcast, guest Caitlyn Wallace, LCSW, unpacks these terms and talks about ways to address feelings about wildfire and climate change. According to Wallace, “Eco-anxiety is the anxiousness and the worry about the changing climate and what might happen. And eco-grief is the sadness and grief at the loss of life – human, animal and plant life – that you anticipate to come.”
Wallace, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in Northern Nevada, specializes in perinatal mental health and the emerging field of climate-informed therapy. She treats patients experiencing pregnancy, postpartum depression and anxiety, infertility, grief and loss. Wallace explained that some of her clients were also experiencing eco-anxiety and eco-grief.
“I started noticing in some of my clients this grief and guilt around – I work so hard for this baby, I tried so hard for this baby. The baby is here. And now I am guilty and ashamed because there’s a pandemic, there’s smoke, there’s this warming climate and we’re in a huge drought. What did I do? Why did I bring a baby into this world?” said Wallace.
On the podcast, Wallace explained that anxiety and grief show up differently for everyone. Therefore, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for dealing with eco-anxiety and grief. However, she emphasized the importance of acknowledging feelings and experiences.
“I think that a big thing is being able to name it and being able to talk about it. Yeah, we know enough to know that for a lot of these things. Specifically, depression, anxiety, that being able to talk about your feelings around them gets you out of a fight-or-flight reactive place and into a place where you can be more responsive.”
Wallace speaks about the benefits of finding a space to talk about the feelings of eco-anxiety, such as a Climate Café modeled after Death Cafés. According to the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America, a Climate Café is “an informal, open, respectful, confidential space to safely share emotional responses and reactions related to the climate and environmental emergency.”
Wallace is one of the only climate-informed therapists in Northern Nevada and has started hosting free Climate Cafés in Reno, which you can read about in Our Town Reno. And, to learn more about eco-anxiety, check out Wallace’s suggested reading list below: