Sitting and Moving With Climate Emotions
The quote “Don’t just do something, sit there” in the graphic featured above is attributed to American mindfulness meditation teacher and author Sylvia Boorstein, who published a book with this title in 1996. In an interview for an article in Lion’s Roar in 2009, she explained that the phrase meant “Don’t JUST do something (i.e. impulsively respond) — Think It Over!” For climate activists and anyone feeling overwhelmed by the climate and ecological crises, this is good advise for reducing the risk of burnout.
As Chris Johnstone outlines in his article “Ten Strategies for Avoiding Burnout“, inspired by permaculture principles, we may need to think about and enact “commitment cropping” and “crop rotation with fallow periods” and other sustainable, regenerative strategies for helping ourselves. For me, dealing with overwhelm has meant taking time for regularly listening to a podcast about the “personal side of climate change” (emotional responses and feelings), sharing at climate cafes, attending trainings about climate psychology, and lots of reading about climate mental health & wellness. Processing my climate emotions by taking walks in nearby parks and moving to music are also vital practices for supporting my resilience.
The quote “Don’t just sit there, do something” in the graphic featured above is my invitation to practice engaging with 3 evocative music dance videos for processing our climate emotions. The videos are featured below. Feel free to participate according to your own preferences and abilities today, including choosing to observe only, remain seated, or stand for the practices. These videos, particularly the first and second ones, can be triggering for some people. If you are feeling especially vulnerable right now, you can choose to skip to the last video on Active Hope and come back to the other videos another time.
In this blog post I’m…
- sharing some insights from my journey into learning about climate psychology and mental health & wellness
- continuing with my exploration of the role of movement for processing climate emotions
- offering a new, original climate emotions movement practice video
- linking to two additional movement practice videos that I have found helpful for processing my climate emotions
- inviting you to try out these movement practices for yourself
Panu Pihkala’s model “The Process of Eco-Anxiety and Ecological Grief“
As I mentioned above, as a climate activist and climate-aware facilitator, I feel supported by listening to the Climate Change and Happiness podcast, and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to understand more about climate emotions and feelings, and how to cope with climate distress, and even find some joy. With Season 2, Episode 11 and show notes, you can learn about a new process model of Eco-anxiety and Ecological Grief developed by co-host Panu Pihkala. Co-host Thomas Doherty and Panu discuss the model, including how it can be used as a tool for self-reflection. It is helping me to get more insight into why I sometimes struggle with feelings of overwhelm. I appreciate that this simple but nuanced model allows for “mood changes” and “fluctuation and oscillation”. Panu and Thomas also discuss the image of an ostrich as they explore what it means for us to become highly evolved to live with the long emergency that is the climate and related crises.
Panu’s process model describes how people tend to move through three phases in chronological order, but can become stuck in the first or second phases. They can also experience mood changes and fluctuate and oscillate within and between the phases, such as between the second and third phases. I encourage you to spend some time viewing the “Process Model of Eco-Anxiety and Ecological Grief” graphic (image credit: Anne Palm), watching Panu’s introduction to the model, and listening to Panu and Thomas’ conversation about the model. If you want even more, you can take a deep dive into Panu’s paper.
Climate Emotions: 3 process phases, three music dance videos
If you haven’t already checked out Panu Pihkala’s process model of Eco-anxiety and Ecological Grief using the links above, you may be feeling a sense of anticipation at this point. So here are the 3 process phases in a nutshell: 1. Initial reactions, especially “shock”; 2. “coping and changing”; and 3. “living with the ecological crisis”.
Why a process model? In his introduction to his model, Panu’s answers included that, “more knowledge about the process can help with self-knowledge” and “it could increase understanding and empathy toward others“. His aim includes increasing awareness and reflection about how this model applies at the individual and collective levels. My purposes for this blog post are similar. In addition, I want to explore how pairing the 3 process phases with representative music dance videos can enhance self-knowledge, understanding and empathy. What follows is also an exploration of the role of movement for processing climate emotions.
First Phase: Initial reactions, especially “shock”
The first phase in Panu Pihkala’s process model of Eco-anxiety and Ecological Grief includes “Unknowing”, “Semi-consciousness”, “Awakening” and “Shock”. Many climate activists, like myself, are familiar with the experience of feeling shocked at some point in our journeys, and it often preceded and even precipitated our involvement in activism. Of course, people on the front lines of acute climate emergencies (such as wildfires, floods and hurricanes), can experience intense shock and trauma, along with those who are responding to these emergencies including firefighters, first aiders and humanitarian workers. But even exposure to news about yet another climate-related broken record can contribute to climate distress, including feeling shocked.
My favourite musician Peter Gabriel‘s song “Shock the Monkey” is evocative of climate shock (despite his original intended meaning), including the lyrics “and the news is breaking”. The experience of the “monkey” in Peter’s song is a metaphor for a human experience, but the references to animals in the song can also increase empathy for the more than human world. The references to fire and burning are also metaphorical, but of course could be taken more literally if we are thinking about people escaping and coping with the aftermath of wildfires. The song ends with the lyrics “Shock the monkey to life”, which can be interpreted to refer to being jolted out of climate crisis denial and awakening from disavowal into an understanding that we all have a role to play in averting the worst of what is to come in our warming world.
Below is my interpretive movement practice inspired by Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey”. What feelings and thoughts do the music, lyrics and movements evoke in you? How does engaging with this movement practice video increase your self-knowledge and your understanding and empathy for others?
- Climate Emotions Movement Practice inspired by Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey”
Second Phase: “Coping and changing”
The second stage in Panu Pihkala’s process model of Eco-anxiety and Ecological Grief is “Coping and changing” and includes “Action”, “Grieving” and “Distancing”. People are at risk of “Strong anxiety and depression”.
I’ve paired this second phase with a fitness dance video called “Get Ready!” from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. “Get Ready!” is “inspired by the science of climate impacts” with the purpose of “re-enegiz[ing] humanitarian work in a changing climate”. My main reason for selecting this video to represent this phase is to increase understanding and empathy for humanitarian workers and the people and communities they are supporting. Climate change is a threat multiplier for already marginalized people and communities. Taking action is not optional during acute climate emergencies, people experience intense grief in the face of losses, and self-care can be difficult to practice when basic needs must be prioritized. But even those of us who are not currently facing an acute climate emergency can be experiencing mental health & wellness challenges if we are prioritizing activism at the expense of self-care and grieving at the expense of a more broad emotional engagement.
Below is a link to and description of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre‘s “Get Ready!” fitness dance video featuring choreographer A.J. O’Neill and volunteer dancers from around the world including Leah Lovett. What feelings and thoughts do the music, lyrics and movements evoke in you? How does engaging with this movement practice video increase your self-knowledge and your understanding and empathy for others?
2. Climate Emotions Movement Practice: “Get Ready!” from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre
Third Phase: “Living with the ecological crisis“
The third phase in Panu Pihkala’s process model of Eco-anxiety and Ecological Grief is “Living with the ecological crisis” and includes “Action”, “Emotional engagement” and “Self-care”. According to the model, although there has been a period of “Adjustment and Transformation” in moving from phase 2 to phase 3, there is still a risk of “Potential Depression and Anxiety” for people at this third phase. People can experience “mood changes” and “fluctuation and oscillation”. However, there tends to be improved mental health & wellbeing as people (and communities) cope in ways that are more sustainable and regenerative, balancing action with broader emotional engagement and more self-care.
I’ve paired this third phase with a music dance video called “Active Hope” featuring author and trainer for resilience and well being Chris Johnstone and volunteers. I discovered this uplifting video while I was engaged with a free, video-based, online program called Active Hope Foundations Training (AHFT). I highly recommend this course, which can be done on your own, with a partner, or as part of a small group. Here are two of the comments I posted while signed in and progressing through this 7 week program:
I loved the sections on decolonization and Deep Time. I really enjoyed watching Rob [Hopkins] and Chris [Johnstone] demonstrating this week’s practice of seeing from our hopes. I loved Rob’s response to what we did in 2021 to arrive at the hoped for 2031: “The revolution will be well facilitated”. This course is part of that important movement to resource trainers. Thank you!Anna Nieminen’s (my) posted comment regarding Week 5 – Seeing with New Eyes Part 2 of AHFT
I love this [Active Hope] video! It got me dancing and singing along. So uplifting and joyful! I loved the vocals and seeing everyone embodying Active Hope! I love that it’s not perfect but it’s out there for us to enjoy and be inspired by. I think imperfection is beautiful because it makes me want to just go for it too! Thank you!Anna Nieminen’s (my) posted comment regarding Week 7 – Deepening and sharing Active Hope of AHFT
Embedded below is the “Active Hope” music dance video featuring Chris Johnstone and other volunteers. What feelings and thoughts do the music, lyrics and movements evoke in you? How does engaging with this movement practice video increase your self-knowledge and your understanding and empathy for others?
3. Climate Emotions Movement Practice: “Active Hope” from Chris Johnstone and Active Hope Foundations Training
Reflecting on your journey through learning about 3 process phases paired with 3 music dance videos
Here are some questions for reflection:
- How has this journey been for you in general?
- Did you find learning about Panu Pihkala’s process model stimulating and enlightening or something else?
- Did you identify with the phases, and where do you situate yourself today?
- Do you relate to having mood changes, and what causes them?
- How does the process model help you to understand and empathize with others?
- Did engaging with the music dance videos enhance your learning experience? How?
- What kind of feelings and thoughts came up for you as you engaged with the videos?
- How do you feel about offering your knowledge, training, skills, experience, and interests in the service of addressing the climate, ecological and other intersecting crises?
Some reflections of my own
Working on this blog post has been an enriching experience for me. It has given me an opportunity to deepen my learning about Panu Pihkala’s process model and how it relates to my personal experiences as a climate activist and communicator sometimes feeling overwhelm and mood changes. It has also deepened my learning about Active Hope. Engaging with the videos has reaffirmed by beliefs and feelings about the value of embodied approaches to processing our climate emotions. Offering my own imperfect music dance video and blog post in the service of helping myself and others cope in our warming world is both humbling and gratifying.
Thank you for engaging with me here. Visit my Activations page for more embodied movement practice videos. As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow me on Instagram @annanieminenecjf
A few more climate music related resources
From the Climate Change and Happiness Podcast:
Season 1, Episode 14: Climate Music Pt. 1: Panu’s Playlist
Season 1, Episode 15: Climate Music Pt. 2: Thomas’s Playlist
Peter Gabriel’s new song “i/o” about interconnectedness:
Anna Nieminen’s (my) 4-part playlist about Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey”: