By Janeen Ellsworth
Planetary implosion got you down? Here’s a radical way to process bad news so you won’t want to jump off a bridge!
Sea level is rising. Species are going extinct. Drinking water is more contaminated than ever…
We’ve heard it all before and now we want to off ourselves.
We’re climate-informed, going zero waste and adopting energy efficiency. Only now we’re completely depressed. What we need are actionable tools for how to cope, emotionally, with news of the planet’s demise.
Bourbon helps. Commiserating with friends does, too. Some take to Facebook or Twitter to publicly air their grievances. Unfortunately, complaining about climate change while we sip Jim Beam isn’t a sustainable solution.
“Stress from negative thinking creates changes in the brain that may affect your likelihood of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and mood disorders,” say the authors of Powerofpositivity.com.
It makes sense, then, that complainers, social media addicts and booze hounds aren’t typically the *change agents* we see making remarkable strides for the common good.
If we want to be effective climate champions, we need to undertake a massive attitude adjustment—toward the positive.
But how do we become the best “us” we can be with headlines like these?
“Climate Change is a Public Health Emergency” (Scientific American), “Climate Change Could Turn Earth’s Aquifers Into a Time Bomb” (Popular Mechanics), and “Eating meat has ‘dire’ consequences for the planet, says report” (National Geographic).
It’s a wonder we’re not all rocking back and forth in the dark, murmuring in terror to ourselves, “We’re all gonna die, the planet is ruined!”
Because, deep down, many of us already know we can’t afford to go scary-apocalyptic. That kind of talk, I surmise, is what could be making climate matters worse.
When we talk about ourselves with a spirit of doom (“I’m chubby! I suck at math! Why won’t anyone hire me?”), it’s called negative self-talk, and it’s really bad for our health. And, it adversely affects our relationships because it creates a nasty vibe we put out into the universe so that no one wants to hang out with us.
“Studies have linked negative self-talk with higher levels of stress and lower levels of self-esteem. This can lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness. This type of critical inner dialogue has even been linked to depression, so it's definitely something to fix,” says Elizabeth Scott, MS, at Verywellmind.com.
If the trash-talking we do silently inside our own heads can damage us so much, imagine what trash-talking the Earth (“The permafrost is melting!” “The coral reefs are gone!”) on a global scale could be doing to our precious planet.
The good news? We can stop that negative talk right in its tracks.
In his book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” Dr. Vincent Norman Peale suggests we eliminate, entirely, what he calls “the little negatives,” like those statements above, from our daily conversations. Stop talking about yourself like you’re a louse, because you’re not. And stop talking about Earth like it’s a sucky place, too.
Perseverating on the negative only brings about more negative.
But, says Melanie Greenberg Ph.D., at Psychology Today, “If you keep redirecting your negative thinking over months and years, you may even change the patterns of neural connections in your brain so that you react to life’s events in more grounded ways, with less panic and judgment.”
This is how we cope with -- and begin to change -- the onslaught of terrifying climate news. By developing a grounded, panic-free mindset so that we can, with clarity, do the good work that Earth needs us to be doing.
Using clean energy, cutting back on single-use plastics, eliminating chemicals, not driving everywhere...
I’m not suggesting we ignore or avoid the ugly truth of the thawing permafrost. (Lord knows there are enough people already taking care of that.) But let’s try not focusing so heavily on negative outcomes and, instead, frame scary climate news in as positive a light as we can.
Step outside. Right now. Recall that there is still beauty in every stick, worm and leaf in nature, and focus on that for a change.
Notice the birds chirping happily in the trees. Thank them for reliably migrating every season.
Guys, I’m serious!
Appreciate cool air against your skin. Admire new flower buds poking out of the soil. Pay the Earth a compliment when its glorious trees provide you shade. Say a prayer of thanks when you see pink sunset, a rainbow or a beautiful snowflake.
For crying out loud, think like Bob Ross, who lovingly paid homage to his “happy little clouds” by painting them every day.
Abraham Hicks calls this the Science of Deliberate Creation: “That which I give thought to and that which I believe or expect—is.” (Esther and Jerry Hicks, 2006, “The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham,” Hay House, Inc.)
I believe the Earth is listening. It’s hearing us, picking up our doomsday vibes and reacting to us. If we think our planet is doomed, if we talk about it like it is doomed, then guess what? It will be doomed.
But if we talk about its positives and meditate on them, isn’t it possible it could begin to heal?
But when they hear, “I love how hard you tried! What a kind thing you did! I know you meant well…” they blossom into hardworking, kind individuals who strive for goodness, even while they’re making messes.
In science experiments involving plants and music, plants exposed to the delightful noises of Brahms’ concertos flourished, while those exposed to heavy metal guitars withered quickly.
Social science experiments, like the Bully a Plant program Ikea spearheaded with kids in the United Arab Emirates, showed that when people used angry, bullying words to speak to one plant, it died. And when words of encouragement and kindness were spoken to another, it thrived. (*Skepticism has erupted over this experiment. Some call it a marketing ploy; others, an affront to real science.)
Royal Prince Charles apparently has been using kind words of encouragement to speak to his plants for decades. He and his flourishing garden swear by the practice.
Some will call this idea looney-tunes, but what if we all did like Prince Charles and spoke kindly to the Earth? Might we begin to notice--and even influence—the ways in which it's successfully coping under duress?
Might this global dose of good vibes help the planet to heal?
Call it collective prayer, call it meditation, call it whatever you want. But with widespread positive energy, what if we could inspire our planet to sprout new growth in a clear-cut forest? What if we could, through positive thinking, will an endangered species to flourish anew? Isn’t it worth a try?
Even if it doesn’t work, at least we can say we gave it our best shot. Then we can go back to the bourbon and kvetching, and as the planet implodes, we can enjoy a decent buzz, knowing we did all we possibly could while we were here.
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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