We started by stating our intention (to share coping strategies for adaptation professionals and frontline communities) and hearing more about Amber's work with her Climate Kids program, where she finds hope and inspiration in a new generation taking hold of environmental conservation and climate change. We were hoping to steer the workshop in the direction of ways to find hope and inspiration.
Then we reviewed some relevant concepts and research, including:
- "Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance," EcoAmerica's new report released March 29, 2017, authored by its Climate for Health staff working with the American Psychological Association, which outlines some of the acute and chronic ways climate change is affecting the mental health of both individuals and communities.
- The principles of "Presencing" and "Purposing," from Bob Doppelt's Transformational Resilience approach to climate change-induced trauma and toxic stress. In preparation for this session I listened in on a series of talks he gave over the month of April, and also watched the recording of the California Department of Public Health's Climate Action Team Public Health Working Group meeting held on Oct. 18, 2016, entirely dedicated to the theme of mental health and climate change, which included a talk by Mr. Doppelt. The recording is available here (IE browser recommended) and you can jump to Mr. Doppelt's talk at 1:20:00 (running to 1:37:38). See the PowerPoint presentation he shared with that talk.
The idea of "presencing" is to meet the basic human need of feeling safe and OK in your body (i.e., meditation, breathing exercises, taking walks), and "purposing" is to meet the basic human need of feeling like you are part of something bigger, that you matter (i.e., connecting with organizations and communities that support your core values). I've been thinking about these concepts almost every day since I learned about them. I think most self-help mechanisms fall into one or the other category.
We also introduced the term "pre-traumatic stress disorder," coined by Harvard psychiatrist Lise van Sustern. (Read an article by Daniel Oberhaus that quotes her on this topic from Feb. 2017.)
Next, we elicited from participants some reactions to the questions:
- What keeps you up at night?
- How do you foster optimism?
- Where do you find opportunities for growth?
- Do you have any examples of where you found new meaning or opportunities in an adverse situation?
Then we asked participants to add their contributions to flip chart sheets posted in each corner titled respectively:
- Greatest fears
- How you are coping right now
- Ideas for coping that are working for you and can be maintained
- Greatest hopes
At the outset of the talk we had given everyone two index cards, and asked participants to write their greatest hope on one card and take it with them, and to write their greatest fear on the other card and leave it with us in a special box we brought to collect them (asking them to imagine they are leaving those fears behind, for someone else to carry and take care of). 13 people left cards in that box. I read them later. People are grappling with issues on the scale of :
"I'm afraid we've killed God."
I rang a bell every 5 minutes to cue people to move on to the next sheet. A lively discussion was in progress at each station every time I rang the bell. During this time a participant came up to me and suggested the next time we do this workshop we shouldn't ask people to look for hope, essentially saying there is no hope, the best we can look for is "peace."
I've been sitting with that thought.
An alternative view that I heard later from a friend who was sitting outside the session and overheard some of it was that we shouldn't despair, we should "fight harder."
That's another thought with which I've been sitting.
I wonder which perspective is most helpful to whom and at what point in their struggle to make a difference.
Next we asked participants to return to their sticker coloring stations and I and my co-organizers read out some things that were written on the various lists. The "how I'm coping now" sheet included a fair range of different types of alcohol and other routes of escape. The sheet we intended to be for "sustainable" coping mechanisms had some interesting items like:
- Release the need to be right
- Stay offline after work
- Talking to friends, hugging friends
- Walking dogs for the Humane Society
- Contemplative practices (including ceremony, quiet retreats, chanting, lectio divina, walking, prayer)
- Outdoors activities like gardening, hiking
I remarked that most of these things were solitary, more about "presencing," not necessarily connecting to a larger community, so I asked for some more suggestions in the "purposing" category, and someone said:
"My mom always said that if you're feeling bad go do something for someone else."
... I noted that this lines up with things I learned in the Science of Happiness, a MOOC run out of the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. (Read more here: Kindness Makes You Happy and Happiness Makes You Kind .)
Lastly we discussed the possibilities for creating a community of practice around supporting climate change practitioners' mental health. More to come on that, I hope!
- Read more about Bob Doppelt's International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC)
- Watch Dr. Susanne Moser's keynote address Hope: A Bridge Without Railing at the 2015 Conference on Communication and Environment" about the importance of active hope in the face of climate disruption and other threats to life on the Earth" (1:27). Susi starts speaking at 10:15.
- Read the article on which this lecture is based (Moser & Berzonsky 2015, still in peer review? apparently?)
- When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job by John Richardson, the 2015 Esquire article that inspired the title for my session at NAF.
- Is This How You Feel? - Letters from climate scientists about their fears.
- More Than Scientists - Video clips of climate scientists talking about why they do their work.
- The Art of Empathy: Honoring Your Emotional Ecosystem by Karla McLaren, M.Ed., a 2-page handout we gave to session participants.