By Mark Funnell

Climate anxiety is one of those phrases that sneaks up on you. I doubt anyone was talking about it 20 years ago. Now it comes up in conversations every week.

Perhaps what’s changed is that we can now match the relentless headlines about climate impacts with our own lived experience – whether it’s heatwaves and wild fires or winter flooding and coastal erosion. Perhaps it’s also the growing feeling that we’ve known about this crisis for a long time, and still we haven’t turned things around.

Anxiety comes with a fear of the unknown, a fear of things that could go wrong, but also a loss of agency and control, and feelings of helplessness. ‘This thing is too big for me to change or influence’. Or, ‘it doesn’t matter what we do in the UK when China has plans to build 100 new coal-fired power stations’.

Academics may try to distinguish between concern, worry and anxiety. Some say they have very different impacts on people. But climate anxiety is the phrase that’s stuck. I haven’t heard anyone talk about ‘climate worry’.

So what’s this got to do with Avon Needs Trees?

As someone who’s been communicating about climate change for the last 25 years, who’s gone through some pretty low patches confronting the realities of this biggest of all global challenges, I can say with hand on heart that Avon Needs Trees has been a game changer for me.

Partly it’s just doing something proactive, and being part of a solution, but outdoors. In nature itself. When you switch to energy supply from 100% renewables, yes that’s proactive and ‘doing your bit’, but you feel somehow detached from the inputs and outputs. Planting a tree couldn’t be a more tangible, hands-on contribution to tacking the climate crisis.

It’s also doing it with other people. Whether that’s having a chat and a joke as you plant, or just that awareness that you are surrounded by others doing the same thing for similar reasons, there’s an unspoken sense of companionship with your fellow planters.

In fact, planting trees as a volunteer is pretty much the perfect antidote to climate anxiety. According to the NHS and others, the five steps to mental wellbeing are:

1) Connect with other people
2) Be physically active
3) Learn new skills
4) Give to others (for example by volunteering)
5) Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

Planting with Avon Needs Trees is all of those things. So it’s no great surprise it doesn’t just take the edge off climate anxiety, it helps you feel mentally well. And for anyone who’s done it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

If this has inspired you, why join our growing community of volunteers? You can find all our upcoming opportunities on our volunteer portal.