How Stress Makes Sustainability Feel Impossible

Depression, anxiety, extreme stress...  Mental health impacts our energy, motivation, and behaviour, so why is it that our psychology is largely ignored by sustainability talks?

Honestly, living a greener lifestyle takes effort.  It's not difficult, but it requires brain space and conscious actions to continue to make sustainable choices.  Unfortunately, when our mental health deteriorates, maintaining these habits isn't always possible because we just don't have the stamina.

So I'm here to say that is okay.

green beauty of tropical plant

The weight of our world is not solely on your shoulders.  The importance of buying plastic free, eliminating food waste, and making things from scratch does not land on your lap only.  Taking a shortcut when you need it does not make you a selfish person, nor does it mean you have failed.  Because changing the planet is not the responsibility of any one person, and to help the world, you first have to help yourself.

Life has been chaotic for me.  First with moving to the UK all by myself in 2013, then my PhD struggles, navigating visa paperwork, job changes, Covid -- it feels like I'm always balancing 385038 different plates...  It has not been easy, and I have kept pushing ahead for a long long time, all while maintaining my sustainable habits.  But last year I ran out of steam.  Something had to give before I fully cracked.

For me, that something was my standards for sustainability.

Did I stop living a greener lifestyle?  No, of course not!  I still use reusable bags, walk to work, shop organic, choose small business, buy secondhand, and use natural products.  These are all things I don't feel overwhelmed by, and they remain simple.  However, not everything is so easy.  

Personally, cooking all our meals from scratch was the hurdle.  I recognised that if I bought fresh produce, the chances of it rotting in the fridge were pretty high.  I accepted that if I was going to bother with lunch, microwaveable rice was going to have to appear in my pantry.  Being plastic free could not always remain a priority.  Because I was tired.  Because I needed a break.  And I don't think I am the only one.

healthy organic and local food from Greengrocer Norwich

Food is essential to survive, but when you're struggling with depression, anxiety, or a huge amount of stress, it's one of the first things to take the back seat.  It becomes the impossible task.  Cooking just doesn't feel like a priority, and the mental and physical effort it takes to prepare a homemade meal just becomes overwhelming.  In these cases, a bag of frozen peas that can last for ages and be unthawed at any time, a packet of quinoa that's ready to eat in two minutes, a ready made pot of hummus - this is what is realistically achievable.

So why is this not addressed by those in the eco friendly living community?

Why do we have solutions for neurotypical and those with 'normal' mental health, but none for the 15 million people in the UK who are struggling?

Why do we have to feel guilty while big businesses get to continue raking in money for their single use plastic packaged food instead of switching to compostables?

Why do we ignore how hard it is to keep making good choices when we can barely get out of bed or find ten minutes to recharge or stop our minds from spiraling?

Why don't we acknowledge that stress makes sustainability feel impossible?

I think it is time.

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