Heights centers offer strategies for coping with eco-anxiety

Nema Saleem-Green leading a cardio drumming class at The Mindful Mix.

The beginning of a new year is often a time for reflection and hope. For some, the new year can intensify anxious thoughts, rooted in the notion of a planet in distress.

A 2018 survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that “almost 70% of people in the United States are worried about climate change, and around 51% feel helpless.” Researchers call this state of mind “eco-anxiety”—chronic or severe anxiety related to humans’ relationship with the environment.

Most levels of eco-anxiety can be addressed through personal action and lifestyle adjustments. Two centers located in Cleveland Heights offer strategies and ideas.

Dean Williams, Zen Sensei (teacher) at the Crooked River Zen Center, at 1813 Wilton Road in Cleveland Heights, quotes from the book Ecodharma, by David R. Loy: "The environmental crisis needs to be seen as a spiritual crisis, not a technological one.”

According to Williams, “The environmental crisis is a crisis of the human spirit because it is a crisis of our values, our priorities, and our relationship with the earth.”

“The work we each have to do is the work right here and right now. Whatever it is, just take care of it,” Williams urged. “In the face of great stress, some people may find it easier to ignore or just look away, when in fact the best course of action is to stay with it, be present in the present. There is not a prescribed course of action; instead, there is a wide range of options emerging from being still within.” 

According to Nema Saleem-Green, owner of The Mindful Mix, at 1799 Coventry Road, “It is important to balance a desire to do good in the world with self-care and equanimity. There is only so much we can accomplish in any given day, and a burnt-out activist is not going to be much help."

A clinical counselor, certified art therapist, and program manager at the East Cleveland Neighborhood Center, Saleem-Green spoke from experience. "After spending many years helping people in our community, I found myself burned out," she recalled. "I realized that I was not practicing what I was preaching.” Saleem-Green embarked on a journey of self-reflection and evaluation that lead to the realization that she needed to create space for herself to heal and practice mindful self-care.

She created the The Mindful Mix to provide “a space for everyone to come together to connect with themselves through movement of the body in the form of cardio drumming, art creation, and community building." She described it as "a place to be present with one’s own self and like-minded people.” Since its opening, Saleem-Green said, she has seen "a genuine and authentic energy that people embody when they are in the present, experiencing themselves. This positive impact permeates in their interactions with each other and their surroundings.”

Both Williams and Saleem agree that being more present promotes awareness and a more mindful way of living. Increasing well-being, value clarification, awareness, empathy, and compassion are helpful tools to transition toward more sustainable choices.

Catalina Wagers

Catalina Wagers lives in Cleveland Heights' Fairfax neighborhood, and is a co-founder of the Cleveland Heights Green Team.

Read More on Sustainability
Volume 16, Issue 1, Posted 10:13 AM, 01.02.2023