Dr. Theresa Crimmins (SNRE) recently contributed a fascinating piece (click here to view) to Scientific American that discusses strategies to relieve anxiety and depression related to climate change (i.e. climate anxiety or eco-anxiety). With daily news of unprecedented natural disasters, drought, and record-breaking weather events, climate-related anxiety is becoming increasingly common. Small positive acts that connect us with nature on a regular basis, however, heighten our sense of self-empowerment and alleviate hopelessness generated by the global phenomenon.
For those of us with little time or flexibility, Dr. Crimmins recommends a simple fix: taking a moment to document a plant or an animal?s changes regularly to synchronize ourselves with the natural world around us. Tracking an organism?s changes throughout the year (i.e. phenology), either in a personal notebook or with a citizen science program, such as Nature's Notebook, reconnects us with the environment and allows us to gain more knowledge and appreciation for the other living beings we share our planet with.
?Taking this form of action is an antidote to the hopelessness that can arise in the face of climate change. Anxiety and depression naturally arise when we perceive we have no power over a situation. Doing something, such as documenting seasonal changes, is a way to restore a modicum of control and a sense of well-being? ~Dr. Crimmins
This practice resonates with common techniques recommended for soothing anxiety, such as mindfulness and meditation, by focusing our thoughts and grounding us in the present. One could choose a plant in their yard or along a favorite nearby trail to encourage extra time outdoors and additional exercise. All of these benefits will improve mental and physical health in addition to rekindling or strengthening our personal connection with local flora and fauna.
Though tracking phenology won't solve the climate crisis, it offers a sort of "nature therapy." Lack of control may leave us feeling trapped and paralyze further action. Dr. Crimmins suggests that these simple practices improve our overall well-being, giving us the strength to tackle the difficult challenges of climate change.
Additionally, if your observations are recorded into Nature's Notebook, your data will contribute to research into how organisms are changing with the climate to better inform mitigation strategies. The USA National Phenological Network (NPN) hosts Nature?s Notebook for volunteer observers and professional researchers to submit their phenological data. Data from observers across the country is available publicly and compiled in an online database at NPN. The platform allows anyone to explore seasonal changes across the country for a specific species or taxa, offering an invaluable resource to researchers, farmers, teachers, and resource managers nationwide to better understand how seasons are progressing within and across years.
Slideshow photo by Sergey Shmidt on Unsplash