Anxiety, Zero Waste Living

9 (free) Community-Based Actions You Can Do To Combat Eco Anxiety, Eco Guilt, and Eco Grief

The American Psychological Association has eco-anxiety listed as an official mental illness. They even have an entire guide on the topic. Eco anxiety has been getting a lot of press lately, and for good reason. It’s becoming more and more prevalent in our society, and not just in adults. In our kids too

What’s not as prevalent (yet) is eco guilt and eco grief. But these two emotions can be just as hard to deal with as eco anxiety. And like all mental illnesses, just because they’re not talked about doesn’t mean they aren’t there. 

This is the time in my post where I mention if you are finding that eco anxiety, eco grief, eco guilt, or any other feeling is so intense it is impacting your day-to-day life, please talk with someone. 

There are free resources (Crisis text line), online therapy, and in-person options. If you don’t have insurance and cost is an issue (or even if you have insurance but cost is an issue), check in your local area for mental health non-profits. There may be resources that can help you find the care you need. 

I have an entire post on eco anxiety and eco guilt, so I’m not going to go into detail about what those two things are in this post. If you’re interested in learning more about the topics, I’d invite you to head over to that post first, check it out, then head back here. 

Related: Eco Anxiety and Guilt: The What and The How (to Manage)

One thing I have found in my own experience with eco anxiety, eco guilt, and eco grief, is that besides therapy (yes, I’ve been to therapy for these things), funneling that anxious, guilty, and sad energy into positive action towards the climate crisis is (through action at home and action in my community) is a helpful way for me to manage. 

As I’ve had a lot of practice managing my anxiety and funneling that energy into action, I’ve found that the bigger the action, the more it helps. 

Often, these big actions can involve spending money, which is something I don’t have a ton extra right now in this season in my life. But that’s ok, because there are many “free” ways (free in a monetary sense) to get involved with you community and still make a difference. And lucky for you, I’m sharing some of these actions in this post!

So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

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For every piece of negative news you see/hear, take some sort of eco anxiety, eco guilt and eco grief counter action

100% disclosure, I didn’t come up with this idea, and I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember where I heard it from. I *think* it was on Oprah’s ‘Super Soul Sunday’ podcast, but I can’t remember the guest. If you know, please let me know so I can credit the person properly. 

When I first heard this idea, it was like a huge light bulb went off in my head. I talk extensively about taking action to help counter any eco anxiety, eco guilt, and/or eco grief. So when I was feeling down about the environment, I would try to think of some big action I could do. But in reality, I really just needed to do something at that moment, even if that ‘something’ wasn’t HUGE. 

So, I first became really intentional about my news consumption. I share my tips for what I did and how much I consume in my post on how to detox from the news but still stay informed

By doing so, I was able to become intentional about my consumption, and be able to do so when I had the time to really consume, process, and then figure out a way to take action. 

What are some examples?

Let’s take the recent fires in Australia. Those were extremely anxiety producing for a number of people for the obvious reasons. 



A lot of help needed involved monetary donations, and if you’re in a position where you can’t afford to donate, that may have put you in an even bigger funk because you feel like you can’t help. But there are free ways you can take action. 

  • If you were/are in the area, there was a need for shelter for families who were displaced.

  • As some people lost everything in the fires, there was a need of items and/or food you could donate from your own items

  • Volunteering (either on sight or find organizations at home that are directly helping.) 

  • Not near the crisis? Join or organize a local meetup  where people can come and donate, package, and send goods)

  • If you weren’t in the area, you could write or call your local politicians, and express your concern over the climate crisis

  • Share resources on social media for people to donate, volunteer, or where to call in / write in. 


Note: Of course in these types of situations, you can always donate money, but since this post was specifically about ‘free’ community-based actions, I didn’t include it with the main list. 

One other example – news broke last week (at the time of publishing this post) about Trump rolling back protections against water pollution. I was heartbroken, to say the least. So, I’m letting myself process my emotions, and then going to write to my local politicians about the importance of pushing back against this policy roll-back. Sure, it may be considered ‘small’, but it is taking action and it is something that helps and makes a difference!

Want to do the same? I created a Sample letter template for writing to politicians/representatives that you can use too!



Any time you feel eco guilt, take some sort of counter action

No, I’m not repeating myself here. Ok, well, in a way, I am. But in this particular tip, I’m honing in on eco guilt specifically – because it can be very hard to manage, AND, easily turn into eco shame, which can be very damaging. 

The eco guilt I’m talking about here is of the personal type.

Let’s look at buying in bulk as an example.

Maybe you don’t live in a big town, or maybe you don’t have access to transportation to a variety of grocery stores. Or maybe the only bulk options near you are out of your price range. Or maybe you have access to bulk, and you’ve priced out a few items and they’re comparable or cheaper, but you don’t have the time to run to multiple stores.  Whatever the reason, you aren’t able to buy foods in bulk. 

You may feel really guilty about that. And that guilt may creep up every time you have to buy an item with a lot of packaging. And again when you throw that packaging away. 

I get it, I’ve been there. 

One of the things I’m working on this year is to stop feeling guilty for the things I have no control over in my life right now when it comes to reducing waste, and focus on the things that I do. 

For example, my budget does not afford me to be able to buy all the things in bulk. It would be nice if that was different, but right now, it’s not. I used to be the person in the above scenario, where I’d feel bad shopping, throwing food packaging away, and get frustrated that I knew so much about what happened. Ignorance is bliss, I would tell myself. And I was unfortunately not ignorant in this matter. 

But now, I try to make up for it in different ways that I can have an impact on. 

I’ve started volunteering for a local sustainable organization. Last year, I expanded my vegetable garden by 25+ containers (which I realize I’m lucky to have the space to do so, and a husband that didn’t mind our front deck being completely taken over.) This way, we could utilize package free food during the growing season. And bonus – I was able to give some away in my local community.

Figure out some things you can do to channel that eco guilt into something productive.


Maybe you got a straw with your drink when you were out with friends. When you get home, write an email to the company or tag them on social media and ask that they only have straws available upon request, and encourage others to do the same.

Related post: Plastic is not the enemy: our mindset is. 

The act doesn’t have to be big, time consuming, or cost money. It’s just important to do something – and bonus, you can counteract your eco grief AND make a difference in your community!



Volunteer your eco anxiety, eco guilt and eco grief away

If you are able, consider volunteering for a local organization that matches your values. According to one study:

“Research has found that participation in voluntary services is significantly predictive of better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, lower depressive symptoms, psychological distress, and mortality and functional inability”

There’s no right or wrong answer to how much volunteering you need to do, nor what type of volunteering you need to do. I think we often get this idea that all volunteer work involves an able-bodied person getting down and dirty, and for some, that may be the case. But that doesn’t have to be your volunteer experience. 

For me, I just need to believe in the mission and feel like I’m helping towards something bigger than myself. And sometimes those tasks involve helping an organization with inventory, social media, office work, etc. 

When I look for volunteer opportunities, I try to look for ones that pull to my strengths. For example, as a nature photographer, I used to volunteer to take photos for an environmental organization during planting events they would offer. The photos helped them market their organization for potential volunteers, donors, and for grant work. 

So how do you find volunteer work in your area? Sites like volunteermatch.org are great places to find opportunities in your area. It also allows you to pick specific things you are interested, and you can sign up for an email digest and get new opportunities emailed to you on a weekly basis. 

Looking for volunteer activities to do specifically with kids? Doing Good Together is a great resource that I would highly recommend. They have tons of ideas that you can do on your own time or with a specific organization. 



Vote your eco anxiety, eco guilt, and eco grief away

I know, you probably hear this all the time, but it is so important to vote if you are able. And this year (2020) in the United States, we have a big election coming up in November. 

Even if you don’t feel like you care about politics, other people that directly affect you do. And those people you don’t care about (aka politicians) have the ability to really make a mess or clean up things that may be important to you – ahem – like, the planet. 

Note that these impacts/decisions don’t just happen at the national level. Start getting involved in your local elections too. The actions of those politicians matter as well!

Here are some things you can do for yourself, some resources that may be useful, and ways to spread the word within your community:

  • Make sure you’re registered to vote. Here is a website that will walk you through the process. After you’ve registered or checked if you’re registered, share with your friends and family and offer to help them register if needed.


  • Research candidates. 
    • Locally, check your local paper for more information on candidates. Otherwise, you can ask around local community groups for information as well.

       
    • On a national level, I personally find a lot of use from a guide put out by ‘The Skimm’, which is a daily news digest (Monday – Friday) that brings you what you need to know about what happened the day before, with external links if you want to learn more. They put together a great, (from what I can tell) unbiased 2020 voter guide, and I follow that pretty closely. I also look at other sources, but this one is my main go-to.
      • If you’re interested in signing up for ‘The Skimm’ daily digest (it’s free), you can do so here. I find it particularly useful for when I’m feeling anxious about the state of the world – which is often – because they do a great job of giving you the info you need to know, but don’t hammer it out. It also helps me be intentional about my news consumption, because I get to choose when I look at the news, instead of having it bombard me in a news feed (I unfollowed all but one international/national and one local news accounts on both Facebook and Instagram.) Finally, I’ve found it to be unbiased – which I like.


  • Know when your primary elections are: primary elections are just as important (in my opinion) as regular elections, because you get to help choose who moves forward in the process. Make sure you’re registered to vote before the primaries!
    • Locally – contact your city hall office or look in your local paper to find out when these are
    • Nationallycheck out this site which has the dates broken down by state.

  • Absentee voting: Can’t make it to your primary elections or regular election on election day? Consider doing absentee voting. Check with your local city hall for more information. For example, my city allows absentee voting via mail OR they are available for voting in person a few days prior to the election day. It likely varies by state.


  • Community action: Offer to give neighbors, friends, and family members rides to go vote. Or, offer to volunteer to give rides to those in your community who may need one on election day. Or, offer to help babysit those with kids who may be intimidated to bring them to the polls.


  • Share resources: share all these resources with everyone you know. Offer to talk about the voting process with those who may be uncomfortable or nervous.






Host a swap, and ‘swap’ your eco guilt, eco anxiety, and eco grief for community and fun (sorry, I had to)

As I talk about in my post all about hosting a toy swap (with tips that are applicable for other types of swaps), I was super nervous to host my first one – even though it was just going to be amongst friends and members of a local moms group. Anxiety was telling me that people would think the idea was silly, and no one would show up. But I initially pitched the idea, and got overwhelmingly positive responses. 

You don’t have to host a huge community event to start with (unless you want to) – you can start with a few friends, neighbors, and family members. I just hosted in my house, asked people to bring a snack to share to keep things low cost, and went from there. IE: you don’t have to spend money to host a toy swap! Utilize the resources you have, and ask people to chip in. 

Besides toys, you can do a clothes swap, outdoor gear swap, electronics swap, movies/DVDs/music/games swap, household goods, tools, garden/outdoor tools, the list goes on and on. 

Not only do swaps connect you with your community (whether that is your immediate community or community at large), they also promote reducing waste, clutter, and saving money. They are also a great way for people to get involved that feel they have limited resources to do so. Additionally, it may attract people who aren’t necessarily just doing it for the low-waste piece, but may be interested in learning more. 

To find out more, check out the link above or visit the post here



Grow your own food and share it to combat eco anxiety, eco guilt, and eco grief

When my husband and I moved into our home, the first thing we did, besides having our son a month later, was made plans for a vegetable garden. My dad came over and built a raised bed for me in our backyard, and I was ecstatic. Before we lived in a condo, and I belonged to a community garden – which was also great, but I knew once we were in a house I’d want something in our yard.

Fast forward to the last few years, and each season I’ve expanded the vegetable garden a little more. This upcoming season will be no exception. 

Growing your own food, and gardening in general, has SO MANY benefits – that it could be a whole post (and in fact, I have an entire post on it – see below.) In a nutshell, growing your own food cuts down on resources and emissions to grow, harvest, and get the food to your plate. Gardening is also GREAT for our physical and mental health. 

Throw in the aspect of sharing food, plants, seeds, tools, or even just advice with others? Bam. Building community. 

Not only that, but it is a GREAT activity to do with kids. I allot my son a specific area in the garden where he can dig, plant something, play in – basically, whatever he wants. He helps me plant seeds, harvest the vegetables, and is outside with me when I water the plants (which is meditative AF, by the way.) We talk about soil and how magnificent it is. He gets to see something grow from a tiny seed that we then eat to nourish our bodies. 

It also helps kids understand where our food comes from – which is important!

I have two posts on growing your own food: one for vegetables and one for herbs. And you don’t have to be an avid gardener to grow your own food! Even just a pot of tomatoes or some herbs makes a difference. 

Related post: The ‘So Big it Should’ve Been an E-book’ Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables (Zero Waste Style)

Related post: The Beginner’s Guide to Growing, Harvesting, and Preserving Fresh Herbs

Now, you may be questioning me here because this post was all about FREE actions you can do! I challenge you to look for ways to grow your own vegetables for free. Join local swap groups, gardening groups, look for seed swaps in your area, ask friends/neighbors/family to borrow items, etc. I see so many pots and garden supplies available on second hand sites like Nextdoor, Freecycle.org, Facebook community groups (local garage sale and garden ones) and Buy Nothing Groups. Bonus: this is another great way to meet people in your community!



Research local sustainability efforts, goals, or plans for eco anxiety, eco guilt, and eco grief relief

Look into any sustainability efforts/goals/plans your city or town has in place and start talking with city council, papers, community members, etc. about ways to get involved. When I first moved to the city I live in now, I looked and there were some sustainability goals, but not much beyond that. 

I emailed my city councilperson and asked, and was directed with someone else who could answer some of my questions (such as: what plans are in place to make our city more sustainable? What about composting? Etc.)

They may not have been able to answer all my questions, but I at least was showing interest and letting them know that this was the type of thing that I wanted to see. 

Fast forward a couple of years, and the city recently created a sustainability commission/board that will work with city council on all things sustainability. This commission was created due to community members pushing for one. I went in to interview for the committee, and there were more people who were interested than spots available. What does that mean? It means there are many people in the community who care about the environment and our planet. 

I’m going to guess that my city isn’t alone in this. Many local bag bans/bag fees and other environmental efforts are started from community members. ANYONE can do this stuff. Truly. Someone just has to take a leap. 

Related content: Check out the Hippie Haven Podcast for an episode on how to get involved in your local community (Sept 11, 2019), Growing $700 worth of food in 100 sq. feet (July 17, 2019), How to get plastic bags banned in your town (April 24, 2019.) 



Use your eco anxiety, eco guilt, and eco grief energy to give you fuel to attend a protest/sit-in/strike 

I feel like no list of free community based actions would omit attending a protest, strike, or sit-in. I realize this may not be for everyone, and I also realize some people may have costs associated with attending one including taking time off of work, parking, food, etc. But, it can also be a low cost/no cost option for some, so I wanted to include it.


I attended the youth climate strike last year (2019) and was on the verge of a panic attack the entire time. While I’m glad I attended, I feel like it’s not something I’ll likely be doing regularly. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t support the people who do them, or the actions themselves. 

If you’re like me, consider sharing information about the strike on your social media channels and with family and friends. You can also donate to the organizations hosting the event, or volunteer for them. 

That all being said, it is an action that is great for a lot of people. 

Where can you find more information about strikes in your area? It will vary from place to place, but one option to start with is Global Climate Strike. They are a big player when it comes to the climate crisis and community action.

Extinction Rebellion is another group that often does activities such as strikes and sit-ins across the globe. 

Other local organizations may do something similar. 

As with any organization you get involved with (on whatever level), make sure you do your research and align with the group’s mission and values. Make sure the things they do make you feel comfortable. Use your best judgment. 



Create a community dish program to manage your eco anxiety, eco guilt, and eco grief

I first heard of this idea from someone in Minneapolis, Minnesota (where I’m from) who was looking for anyone with extra dishes and/or silverware they would be willing to donate to her for ‘community dishes.’ I was immediately intrigued, and asked her about the idea. She was super sweet and talked to me about logistics, shared her sign-up form she created, and even sent me a conversation she had with the person who seems to have originated the idea (see the post here.) Shout out to @refuserefusempls for all the information!

Basically, a community dish program is where community members can ‘check out’ dishes for free to use for any event they may be hosting. In return, all dishes come back washed and ready to go for the next person. The idea is that most people don’t have enough reusable dishware to host events, so they opt for disposable. Community dishes fill the void in this dilemma.

All the logistics are in the post from ‘Treading my own Path’, so I won’t go into them here. But it seems like such a great idea to connect and help others reduce waste in your community! 

I’m slowly working on the logistics to set this up in my own city, and of course will have a post for you once I do! 

To keep this action free, solicit dishware donations from family, friends, neighbors, and others. Utilize resources like Buy Nothing groups, Nextdoor, Freecycle, Facebook community pages, Facebook Marketplace, and more. It may take longer than if you were to buy everything, but it can truly be a community effort. Plus – it can be a great way to get the word out about the program and get people excited before you launch it. 

Bonus tip: Throw your eco anxiety, eco guilt, and eco grief away while picking up litter

Picking up any litter you find not only makes you feel good, it also benefits your ENTIRE community (animals, people, the earth.) I personally like to share the litter I find and pick up, not because I think it’s fascinating, but to inspire others to do the same, AND also to show the type of litter I normal find (news flash: it’s almost always single-use plastic items) as a way to encourage people to look into reusable options.


Want another benefit? Picking up litter means you have to get outside which has a whole other set of benefits for your physical and mental health – meaning you’ll start feeling better in more ways than one.

Related post: Plogging: What it is and how it can help the earth and your anxiety



What free, community based actions would you add? What have you done in your own community?

I’d love to hear about it!

Want to learn how to adopt a reduction based lifestyle (through mindfulness, minimalism, anxiety management, and zero waste living but not sure where to start?


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