What Can I Do?

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February 19th, 2020
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I wrote this piece several months ago when I began to understand the connection between action and anxiety. I was grappling with my place in the crisis and kept coming back to the same question. I hope you can relate.

- KG

If you’re reading this, chances are you have embarked on your own journey and like anyone who has accepted the science regarding the state of our planet have inevitably sat with the question we all end up facing: what can I do?

For many of us, the panic comes in two waves: first the realization that this truly is a crisis and that our future and the future of those we love is unknown and scary; the second comes when we face the overwhelming lack of control we seem to have over the first.

Regaining Control

The reality of my remaining time on Earth being wildly unpredictable could be likened to a flight through a thunderstorm on a rickety, old roller-coaster.

A loss of control has always been at the root of any great source of fear and anxiety for me. It’s why flying and roller-coasters are not my particular brands of vodka. So it follows that the reality of my remaining time on Earth being wildly unpredictable - even for the most sophisticated scientific models - could be likened to a flight through a thunderstorm on a rickety, old roller-coaster.

It’s due to this desire for control in unpredictable situations that I inherently move to action. I want to know what I can do to gain some semblance of control and move forward from sitting in anxiety.

I wanted to know what I could do to be a part of the change I desperately want to see.

When I began to face the reality of the climate crisis I wanted to know what I could do to slow my own family’s impact on the crisis, but I also wanted more. I wanted to know how I could protect my family and I wanted to know what I could do to be a part of the change I desperately want to see. Essentially, I wanted to know if one person could make a difference in a world that needs so much change at a systems level.  

As I began to search for answers I found myself drawn to examples of others modeling how they have faced their own fears through action. This narrative approach really appealed to me and I found that seeing others break their fears down to actionable, controllable steps gave me a sense of hope and calm and allowed me to begin to navigate through my own eco-anxiety. Stories gave me a sense of community and a feeling that if I applied what was being modeled by others, I could begin to take back a sense of control.

They also helped me stay engaged when it would have been easy to simply detach from the world. Like watching someone climb a wall that seemed previously unclimbable, seeing others conquer insurmountable tasks gave me inspiration and helped me glean ideas that could be applied in my own life. I thought: “ok, let’s just do something and see if I can shake off some of this anxiety.”  I learned that my contribution to the solution would be a small part of a collective and that the world’s fate did not lie solely in my hands (as I had let myself believe).

Baby steps

For me, action started in the same way grocery shopping does: with a list. This list comprised a breadth of complexity but centred on things I felt were manageable.

In future I will tell the story of how I actually tackled these and what barriers I encountered along the way.

Onwards

The process of getting moving was informative and I learned some big lessons. For starters, it was always easier to take on something for which I could find a story that had already been told. For instance, I wasn’t the canary down the coalmine regarding changing out light bulbs so that was accomplished in an afternoon. But I found stories like these to be few and far between and so many of these ideas took hours of research and are still in progress.

I also learned that while my list was imperative to my own sanity and for dealing with my eco-anxiety, it sure didn’t feel like I was making a dent in the systems change that is so necessary. And so I was left wondering how this could be easier. How could those of us that are looking to take some sort of action to move out of anxiety-ridden paralysis collaborate to raft our individual actions into a more impactful outcome? Would sharing our resources stimulate wholesale change and allow for more ease in the process? The answer, I’m learning, is: I sure hope so and let’s find out together.

How could those of us that are looking to take some sort of action to move out of anxiety-ridden paralysis collaborate to raft our individual actions into a more impactful outcome?

It has been interesting reflecting on the many different ways this action has rippled out in my life. Action focused on awareness increased my level of anxiety while action aimed at being more sustainable and prepared led to a state of accomplishment and hope. Interestingly, it is challenging to feel that I have ever done enough. I suppose this is human nature, especially in unpredictable circumstances.

As I write this I aim to put myself in the shoes of others asking themselves the big question of what they can do. And I offer this advice and response: something and anything. Paralysis is the enemy in the world of anxiety. I can empathize with the feeling that this crisis is so complex and enormous that it is overwhelming to know where to even start.

Paralysis is the enemy in the world of anxiety.

But the answer is annoyingly simple: at the beginning. Of your own journey; of your own quest for more control. Action will lead to action and movement will help you shake off the feeling of dread and begin to navigate your way through the darkness. Just as you would before heading to the grocery store, start with a list. And then just get out there and put one item in your cart at a time.

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  • By Kevin Gatley