Are you feeling overwhelmed or feeling environmental guilt because of sustainability news?

Sustainable Lifestyle Consultant - Feeling Environmental Guilt - Photo by Cindy Bonfini-Hotlosz.jpg

For many years now, sustainability has been a passion of ours and also part of our daily lifestyle and business concepts. However, we do know that this might not be true for all our blog readers. We do understand that some people might even feel overwhelmed by the sudden tsunami of information and tips on how to change your way of life to be more eco-friendly or to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Indeed, for many years the issue of sustainability was not really on our radar or a part of our daily lives or, if so, only to a limited extent. But all of a sudden we are surrounded on a daily basis by the problems related to climate change, plastic waste, economic inequality, water scarcity – enough to make even the most passionate environmentalists, even myself, want to pull the covers over their heads or look away from time to time. Nonetheless environmental concerns are pressing and we have to find a way to motivate us.

Already as far back as in 2003, 48% of people felt overwhelmed by environmental messages all around them, according to a study by Cone Communications, who teamed up with ORC International. So it comes to no surprise that some people might not only feel overwhelmed, but also guilty because they think they should be doing more to help the planet. At the same time, these very people might also feel a sense of futility, that they are never going to be able to do enough to help the environment.

There is even an expression to describe this feeling - ‘environmental guilt’ (ESG). But is feeling guilty really the right way to motivate people to change their environmental behaviour? A 2018 study by Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs confirms that if people feel guilty they are in fact less likely to make an effort to live more sustainably or to take steps to improve climate change, and that, in fact, guilt-based environmental appeals even run the risk of backfiring. The study concludes that the feeling of ‘pride’ is a much better motivater for people to change their environmental behaviours. Elke U. Weber, a psychologist who conducted the study, even encourages that the way how environmental challenges are communicated should change completely to better motivate people to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

"Because most appeals for pro-environmental action rely on guilt to motivate their target audience, our findings suggest a rethinking of environmental and climate change messaging to harness the power of positive emotions like pride", Weber said.

But how can a person overcome their feeling of being overwhelmed or feeling guilty? We have thought of some ideas on how people can overcome those negative feelings:

1) Start small. Do not try to change all your habits at once. Set yourself reachable goals and not too many at once, so that you feel motivated. You might even keep a small journal to track your goals.

2) Join groups/friends to get inspired. It is always easier to join forces with your friends. In this way you can exchange thoughts and also motivate each other. Another way is also to join a group or initiative which inspires you. They are many interesting groups, on Facebook for example, which you can follow.

3) Don’t try to be perfect. You will have some set-backs and this is ok. Never forget that it takes around 2 months for a habit to become automatic! So be patient with yourself!

4) Meditate. Meditation is an excellent tool to decrease cloud thinking, depression, and anxiety so it really helps when you are feeling overwhelmed or feeling guilt to tackle our environmental challenges that we face nowadays.

5) Be simple. In recent years we have been motivated and encouraged to buy more and to live an excessive life by media and companies. It will take time to change this habit again to live a more simple lifestyle. For older generations this might be easier as they can still remember how life used to be before, but for younger people this might be a bit challenging.

7) Use you passion. If you have a passion, for example gardening, it might be the perfect time to start growing your own vegetables; or if you like sewing it might be the right moment to start repairing your clothing or upgrade your clothing and so reduce buying new clothing.

For more information on what motivates people to be more environmental friendly: