Heavy rains drench British Columbians with more climate anxiety

·3 min read
People are transported on a boat after being rescued from an area that was cut off due to flooding in Abbotsford, B.C. on Nov. 16, 2021. Experts say eco-anxiety is increasing as British Columbians witness and experience extreme weather, from the summer's forest fires and heat dome, to recent floods. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
People are transported on a boat after being rescued from an area that was cut off due to flooding in Abbotsford, B.C. on Nov. 16, 2021. Experts say eco-anxiety is increasing as British Columbians witness and experience extreme weather, from the summer's forest fires and heat dome, to recent floods. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

As floods have ravaged through Abbotsford, B.C., Lindsay Finnson is among many locals experiencing the struggle and generosity of the community.

Finnson has volunteered by sandbagging and providing food to those affected.

But with more stormy weather in the forecast, the pitter-patter of rain is showering her with discomfort and anxiety.

"As soon as the rain started, I just had this... tight feeling in my chest like that anxiety, right, that sense of impending doom. And like just that hope that we've done enough," she said.

Finnson says damage from the flooding has left her emotional.

"It affected me pretty hard. I went home that day and had a good cry."

Lindsay Finnson
Lindsay Finnson

Eco-anxiety is increasing among British Columbians as a result of this year's forest fires, heat dome and recent floods, whether people are witnessing or directly impacted by the environmental disasters, experts say.

According to Maya Gislason, a health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University, eco-anxiety refers to persistent worries about the future of the earth.

While experiencing eco-anxiety, people respond to real and perceived threats, which can lead to symptoms like PTSD, shame, guilt and grief, she says.

"That has knock-on effects... in terms of how people are sleeping, and their appetite and their concentration."

'I don't sleep well'

More rain in the forecast is also worrying for Debora Riga, who lives in Maple Ridge.

"I instantly feel my anxiety going up. I don't sleep well."

Riga's home has been flooded twice in previous years, and hearing about heavy rainfall prompts her anxiety.

"I usually check the basement several times before I go to bed," she said.

Debora Riga
Debora Riga

Riga has been volunteering in flood relief efforts because she can relate to some of the challenges faced by those who have been impacted, she says.

"I'm a single mom, I had a child. I was alone and very panicky because I didn't know what would happen."

Riga says it's challenging to cope with the anxiety, but she likes helping others where she can.

Anticipatory anxiety

Some who have experienced or witnessed trauma from natural disasters face anticipatory anxiety thinking about when another disaster may impact them or their family, says Dr. Linda Thyer, a B.C.-based doctor and founding member of the group Doctors for Planetary Health.

"Some people recover from these traumas fairly well," she said. But for others, "it really does stick with them. And they have long-lasting mental health effects from that."

Thyer says some ways to manage eco-anxiety include personal preparation for emergencies, learning to draw on personal resources, and having discussions with government to mitigate climate change-related concerns in communities.

Easing anxiety with preparation

Karl Meier, who owns a dairy farm in the Sumas Prairie, says his anxiety is lower as he feels more prepared for more rainfall.

"I literally went as low as I could go last week. So having it come again, I'll be okay, I'll just crawl down in this hole again, and I'll crawl back out."

Karl Meier
Karl Meier

The water on his property reached about 12 feet and has since receded by half the height. For Meier, there is relief in knowing his six kids and wife have evacuated.

He says his priorities are to keep his 240 cattle safe, clean out his shops and machinery, and restore his home.

Taking 'hopeful action'

It's vital not to be in denial about the circumstances one faces from a climate event, says Gislason.

"Be really honest about what's going on. Name exactly what's happening... and then turn towards hopeful actions," she said.

These include the ways volunteers like Riga and Finnson have been giving back to the community, despite their rain anxiety.

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