Sustainable Pet Parenting Can Be Stressful. Here’s How to Deal With It · The Wildest

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Sustainable Pet Parenting Can Be Stressful. Here’s How to Deal With it

“We have to be good to ourselves the way we want to be good to the planet”

by Emma Loewe
9 January 2024
A woman laying on a bed with her dog with green palm wallpaper in the background.
Photo: @livingminnaly

By now, it’s no surprise: the planet is not in great shape, and we need to do something about it. As climate change continues to make its presence known through extreme storms and troubling weather patterns, wildfires and floods, we are – understandably – feeling the burn on our mental health. According to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) poll in 2022, almost three in four adults (74 percent) in the UK reported feeling (very or somewhat) worried about climate change.

Wendy Greenspun, PhD, a therapist specialising in climate psychology, says that beyond fuelling anxiety, climate change can provoke feelings of grief for the world we are losing, anger at those most to blame and guilt over our own personal carbon footprints.

The more people (or pets) in your household, the more responsibility you might feel for the problem. When wellness advocate Minna Lee adopted her Corgi, Benny, during the pandemic, she remembers being super-startled by his impact on her rubbish bin. “An additional living being is going to generate waste in a way that you can’t avoid,” she says of how being a pet parent can exacerbate climate stress and guilt.

Having an emotional reaction to an issue as vast and all-encompassing as the climate crisis is totally reasonable, Dr Greenspun notes, and nothing to shy away from. However, for those who now find these feelings overwhelming, these are a few strategies that she’s found to be helpful for taking the edge off. 

1. Move away from black-and-white thinking

“When we go to extremes, we don’t find the room for creative thinking. It’s about finding the middle ground,” explains Dr Greenspun. While climate change continues to be a massive problem, there are also people who are dedicating their lives to finding solutions to it.

Put this tip into practice by challenging yourself to read one article that gives you hope to offset every one that leaves you feeling doomed. Each time your mind flashes to a bleak future, try to envision a more sustainable world that humanity built out of respect for the planet and each other. Remind yourself of the power of human resilience, and know that focusing on solutions won’t distract you from the severity of the problem. Instead, it will equip you to do something about it. 

2. Find your own place within the movement

Hate to break it to you, but you alone will not reverse climate change. With the help of other people, however, you can make a real difference to ease one aspect of it. Dr Greenspun thinks that it can be helpful to narrow your action to one particular climate issue that you really care about (such as ocean plastic or food waste) at a time, and sync up with others in your area who have a similar focus. Not only will this make the problem easier to wrap your head around, but it will also help you see progress in real-time and build confidence. It will also give you the opportunity to talk about your concerns with others, which Dr Greenspun has noticed can be very helpful for combatting feelings of despair.

Dr Greenspun explains that this is also an example of what counsellor Bob Doppelt calls ‘ purposing’, or making meaning of misfortune. “When we’re faced with this enormous thing and feel helpless, sometimes what’s useful is thinking about who you want to be in the midst of it, and how you want to live your life,” says Dr Greenspun. When we consider how climate change could be guiding us to our life’s greater purpose, we step away from anxiety and towards action. 

3. Let your values guide your actions

Dr Greenspun has consulted with plenty of people who put a ton of pressure on themselves to live a perfectly sustainable life all the time. This is not only impossible but counterproductive. “Perfection is not part of any system,” she observes. Just like our outer world is filled with variation and nuance, our inner world needs to remain flexible to change. 

This is something to remember the next time you aren’t able to recycle your pet’s food packaging or find a place to donate old toys. Be kind to yourself. It’s not about getting everything right all the time; it’s about living your life with your values as guiding principles. “Focus on the values that are involved versus the exact specific behaviour that needs to always be adhered to,” Dr Greenspun suggests.

4. Don’t deplete your inner resources

Just like animals hibernate and plants go dormant, we as humans need periods of rest and respite in order to flourish. Consider this permission to take breaks, spend time with those you love and chase joy – even (and perhaps, especially) when it feels like there isn’t much to celebrate.

“Finding those sources that really nourish the psychological system is really essential,” Greenspun emphasises. “It’s OK to go out and enjoy yourself. You need to do that.” As a pet parent, this may look like going on a mindful nature walk or indulging in some extra snuggle time. Lee notes that for her and Benny, it’s walks around their neighbourhood and intentional moments of rest that promote calm amidst the chaos.

In this way, self-care is essential to climate care. After all, as Greenspun acknowledges, “We have to be good to ourselves the way we want to be good to the planet.”

emma loewe

Emma Loewe

Emma is a writer, editor, and environmentalist based in New York City. She is the senior sustainability editor at mindbodygreen, the author of Return To Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us (April 2022), and the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self-Care. While she doesn’t have any pets of her own, she is a loving dog aunt to Pip the pup.

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