Are You Obsessed With Being Eco-Friendly?
It's not always easy being green. Here's how the quest to be perfectly eco-responsible can hurt your health and relationships — and how experts say you can keep your eco-ethics and your sanity.
Great Lengths to Be Green
Heather Levin, who is 32 and lives outside of Detroit with her husband, admits that her green-centric ideas got in the way of her happiness for a time, particularly in her relationship with her mother. “My mom and I used to go shopping together, but when I first started going green I became really against buying anything new and would shop at the Salvation Army or vintage stores only. Things got tense.”
Sarah Lynn Cunningham, a 54-year-old self-employed environmental engineer in Louisville, Ky., drives a hybrid car, has solar panels on her roof, and instituted changes at her last job like banning straws and reducing the number of light bulbs in each ceiling fixture. She admits that certain romantic relationships may have not materialized because her of staunch her reputation: “Over the years I was told that men were intimidated by the idea of having a relationship with me because they thought they wouldn’t measure up to my environmental standards,” says Cunningham, but she asserts that's an ungrounded assumption. “I'm known for my commitment to the environment, and people presume that I'm a lot harder on others than I am.”
Are You Eco-Obsessed?
Of course, all of these women are doing what we’ve all been told to do since we started to hear about global warming, over-crowded landfills, and the erosion of our eco-systems over the last several decades, and their efforts are selfless and laudable. Our planet would certainly be a lot healthier if there were more Brendas, Heathers, and Sarahs around to take care of it.
And while these women may be greener than most, others go even further, driven by anxiety to reduce, reuse, and recycle, or feeling stressed out about not doing enough for the environment. That’s when “ecorexia” — or an unhealthy green fixation — may come into play.
How to Get Over Eco-Anxiety
If you are experiencing anxiety related to green living, seeking advice from a therapist can help you find a healthier balance in your life.
But if you are just starting to tip over into obsessive territory, self-help may be an option, says Deibler.
“When you have thoughts that you need to be doing things a particular way, catch that thought and ask yourself whether doing that thing is worth the potential consequences, and if that reaction seems accurate or distorted,” she says.
For instance: Your child wants to shop for back-to-school clothes where her friends do, but this doesn’t jibe with your green ethics. Deibler urges a struggling mom to ask herself, “Is it worth not participating in consumerism to be eco-friendly at the potential cost of hurting my relationship with my kids?” She also urges people to remind themselves of all the great green things they are doing instead of what they aren't.
Another technique that may help is self-imposed “exposure therapy,” Deibler says. Examples of this might include not removing a can from a public garbage can to bring it home to recycle, or driving to a store because you’re tired or the weather is bad, even though it’s within walking distance. “Change your habits if you feel like you’re becoming obsessive. This will generate distress, but you’ll ultimately have less anxiety when you realize that nothing bad has happened,” says Deibler.
Finding a Happy, Healthy Green Routine
Heather Levin’s own “green guilt” eventually led her to modify her lifestyle. “Every time I bought something new I couldn't enjoy it. I was being too hard on myself,” says Levin. When she reached out to other eco-bloggers for advice, she found that burnout was common. “I realized if I didn’t recycle one honey jar, the world wouldn’t end.” She eventually started shopping with her mom again too. “I was pressing my green views on her... and it wasn’t the right way to do things,” says Levin.
Not only might moderation make you happier, but it could also make more of a difference to the planet. “We’ll make a greater change if we all make small changes,” says Snow. “If one person tries to do everything, it’s going to look too difficult. In relaxing your standards, you may open the door for other people to make positive changes in their own lives.”