The Environmental Impact on Mental Health

By Lizzy Porter, Digital Marketing Exec

The Environmental Impact on Mental Health Crop

We are all aware of the environmental issues our world is facing and I truly believe we should be doing what we can to reduce our impact but even if one of us is perfect zero waste (which isn't achievable by the way) it won’t solve the overall problem. But, if like me, you go down the eco rabbit hole it's hard to know what is best to do when everything you see is a mix of emotional blackmail, greenwashing and misinformation and it can become so overwhelming and mentally damaging. I struggled, I really struggled and the impact my eco journey took on my mental health was quite shocking when I look back on it.  

About two months after my daughter was born we had a visit from some friends who introduced me to cloth nappies and I became instantly obsessed. This started the spiral into becoming a self-confessed eco-worrier.  

The obsession developed gradually over the next year peaking just after COVID hit and sealing us all in our homes. From my perspective, COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time. My husband and I had just separated and he moved out three weeks before lockdown, my daughter was only 18 months old and very demanding, my dog was struggling to recover from leg surgery and was crate-bound for what seemed like forever and I had just started a new career as a seamstress, something completely new and scary which ended as soon as the lockdown started leaving me unemployed.   

I was now alone for the first time in my life, but not just alone, I was isolated, not allowed to see anyone and the stress, fear, anxiety and depression I felt being dropped into this terrifying isolation manifested in falling deeper down the environmental impact hole in order to be ‘good’ at something in a world where I felt I was failing at everything.  

I remember being in the queue for Asda, on one the few occasions I went, with my daughter in a carrier on my back with the rain cover on - in my best attempt to keep the infected air away from her - and me in my mask shaking, pushing the trolly further towards the doors trying not to have a panic attack. Once inside, all I could see was plastic wrapping on everything, and disposable items meant to be thrown away and I could feel the fear, anxiety and confusion swelling inside me. As I went around the shop the fear of the infected air getting to my daughter was matched by the fear of buying plastic which meant, in my eyes, I was solely responsible for the destruction of the world and the weight of every decision I made was piling up. Plastic offered immediate safety to the items that were going into my house but had also become such a source of fear I could barely face adding it to my cart.   

At home, the plastic wrappers piling up became a badge of shame, like I was failing the planet and my daughter. I would spend as much time as possible researching alternative recycling options for soft plastic and how to get what I needed plastic-free on the budget of a non working,  single mum.   

We made bread, biscuits and anything else I possibly could at home, and removed as much food from our diets that came in plastic but this led to me becoming angry. I would see people taking food in plastic and judge them - how could they be so selfish? I would see people using disposable masks and glare at them knowing that each mask would be in landfill by the end of the week. I would see people buy a pack of biscuits and think it must be nice not to be so afraid of plastic that you can enjoy a digestive, or do you just not care about the world or our children?  

As the COVID restrictions started easing, my fear and anger did not. I still felt the compulsive urge to be better and better. Instagram showed people who created a single jar worth of waste in five years and I felt ashamed. Every purchase I made felt like overconsumption and selfish. Any plastic that came in the house felt like poison and I would scold myself for being such a drain on the world. I was never good enough and the fear of how the world was going to end up for my daughter was so overwhelming I couldn’t stand it.  

My mental health continued to deteriorate, and as much as the environmental impact was one of the biggest triggers there were a lot of underlying issues that I wasn’t dealing with and I started counselling to work through everything.   

It has taken years for me to calm down, to ease the guilt I feel but I have managed to, with a lot of love and support from those around me. My partner takes some of the responsibility away from me where he can. He removes plastic before bringing food home and has taken my rubbish to the bin for me when recycling option isn’t available. I have as much in place at home as I can to reduce waste but I have accepted plastic in the house again with less fear. I have stopped looking into the environmental impact so I can live more peacefully knowing I’m doing my best but not striving for unachievable perfection.  

The takeaway I hope you get from this blog written for World Environment Day is that perfection is not achievable and that’s okay. Do what you can to support the environment and leave others to do their bit. Be proud of what you do, and don't shame yourself for what you aren’t. Everyone doing a little is 1000x better than one person achieving perfection.  

Most importantly, do what you need to do to protect yourself. Your mental health is just as important as the health of the planet and you have so much more control over it. Be kind to yourself, and find your happy mental health in spite of the world around you. 

Lizzy Porter
Digital Marketing Executive

Written June 2024

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