Combating Green Fatigue & Eco Anxiety

by heather

7698302I have a confession to make.Β This week, I threw a glass jar of solidified honey in the trash.

Here’s what happened:

I’d had a really bad day. I don’t get bad days very often, but Wednesday was one of those days when it seemed everything went wrong, all at once. I’m sure you know the feeling.

Anyway, after the bad workday I walked downstairs to make myself a cup of tea, and finally noticed that my honey had completely solidified at the bottom of the glass jar. We’re talking rock-solid. Sigh.

Instead of dutifully carrying the jar to the sink to soak so I could recycle the glass, I threw the whole darn thing out.

Now, if I’d had a better day I’m sure I would have done the responsible thing. But that glass jar has been on my mind since then, nagging away, and I realized that it was more than just my bad day that made me chuck it in the trash. It was also that small feeling of, it doesn’t really matter.

Green Fatigue

Just on a whim I started skimming around online to see if other people were going through the same thing. And yes, they are. Psychologists have started giving these feelings names:

Green Fatigue


Green Guilt

How To Deal

I know it can be really overwhelming sometimes. You feel like no matter how many times you bring a reusable cup to the coffee shop, there’s going to a dozen people in line that take a disposable. And no matter how zealous you are about bringing your cloth shopping bags to the market, there’s going to be a hundred other people who use and throw away their plastic bags.

It can be demoralizing and exhausting.

So, I came up with some strategies to deal with green fatigue. I think these will help me when I’m feeling overwhelmed with the green scene, and hopefully they might help you too.

1. Give Yourself Permission to Feel Overwhelmed

I know that sounds contradictory, but here’s what I think. I spend a lot of energy trying to make responsible choices, and do the right thing. And sometimes, it really does get to be too much. I get tired of analyzing whether this or that decision is the greener choice (like that constantly nagging question, is it better to hand wash or run the dishwasher?).

So when I get overwhelmed from now on, I’m going to give myself 5 minutes to whine about it, even if it’s only in my head.

2. Pick Your Three Most Important Green Actions

There’s a gazillion things we can do to live a greener life. But, we can’t do a gazillion things at all once. It’s easy to get bombarded with so many “to do’s” that you feel like a deer in the headlights. Heck, this still happens to me and I’ve been living green for awhile now. It’s probably not going to stop.

When this happens again, I’m going to just focus on the three green actions that I’ve already determined are most important for my life. And, these aren’t what Al Gore or Treehugger deem most important. It’s the actions I think are most worthy: reusable shopping bags, low/no consumption of new products, and recycling.

I’ll let all my worries about the other stuff just die down while I focus on doing those three things really well. Β And later on, either the next day or the next week, or whatever, I’ll widen my focus again. But not until I’ve regained my balance and stopped feeling so overwhelmed.

3. Stop Comparing Yourself To An Eco-Superstar

I have to admit I’m guilty of this one. There are some greenies out there that are truly amazing eco-superheroes. And sometimes I run myself ragged comparing my efforts to theirs. Every decision, every purchase, is a battle it seems.

In my comparisons I always come up short, which makes me feel bad.

So as of today, I’m stopping.

No more comparing!

We have to focus on the good we’re doing. Any good, no matter how small, is worthy. Trying to live up to some impossibly high bar belittles what you’ve done, and what you have in you to do. Small adds up.

Let’s cheer for ourselves first.

Last Word…

I would love to hear back from you on this one. Do you guys go through this too? If so, how do you “stop the madness” so to speak?


Jennifer November 20, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Excellent advice! I find myself feeling guilty a lot about what I’m not doing and feeling helpless because of how small my contributions seem sometimes. I love your suggestion of trying to focus on a couple of things at once. Trying to do everything only leads to frustration.

heather November 20, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Jennifer- I hear ya! πŸ™‚ Thanks for writing in.

Heather November 20, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Been there! There have been several times I’ve fished something out of the trash that I threw there in frustration. I want to cry when I go out and see all the waste, thinking that what I’m doing is less than a drop in the bucket. I just have to remind myself that it is all a process and every little thing helps at least a little.

RenaissanceRonin November 21, 2009 at 2:03 am


I know that you don’t want to hear this… but you’re setting your benchmark too high. You can’t always make the right move, take the right step, and do the right thing…

Remember that every single time you do something “right,” or
green,” or “responsible,” (by your definition) the WHOLE gets a lot stronger. We just have to keep chinking away at it. Everyone has bad days. And we all get tired, and sometimes we wonder if it’s all really worth it… And then, we take a breath, and take a step. It’s THAT step that defines you.

And from what I can see, most of your steps should be an example to the rest of us. Your shoes ain’t exactly easy to fill. Heck, I’d have to shave my legs first… And we both know that ain’t gonna happen… πŸ˜‰

Take your own advice… pick a few battles, and then go hit ’em head on…

Unless it’s “me.” My wife says that hitting me in the head does absolutely no good… What’s up with that? πŸ™‚

heather November 21, 2009 at 6:36 am

@Ronin- You rock. Thanks for such a sweet reply. I think a lot of people, including myself, set the bar too high for themselves. And while it’s good to strive for something better within yourself, it can also be far too easy to crumble if the bar is TOO high. As far as your head goes, I think it’s that steel plate you got from the alien abduction. Remember? πŸ™‚

@Heather-I so totally know that feeling. I get frustrated too when I bend over backwards cleaning out every little thing and recycling, only to see my neighbors trash can full of plastic and cardboard. But I’m making myself not worry about them; I’m just going to do my thing and focus on the good that it’s doing. πŸ™‚ Thanks for writing in!

Shona November 21, 2009 at 7:36 am

My fatigue came at a professional hockey game. Despite bins set-up all over the place for recycling (good for them!) there was all sorts of recyclable + non-recyclable waste all over the floor + I thought, this goes on night after night + in one year I may not even recycle the amount of plastic that gets tossed from one event. I believe in the power on one + my consistence is clear, but seeing all that waste was quite a blow. I completely understand where Heather is coming from.

karen November 21, 2009 at 8:17 am

The honey jar was just symbolic of a bad day you were having (thank God, you took it out on the honey jar and not on your hubby) and we all have days like that. And to feel guilty about the fact it was a glass jar can compound the problem but it could have been worse so don’t beat yourself up for it. (the jar will probably break when it gets hauled off to the landfill, exposing the honey to be decomposed and the broken glass pieces will eventually become part of nature so you’re good there.)

What’s more, have you thought about those who might compare themselves to you and feel bad that they can’t measure up to you? Ah ha! Bet you never thought about that.

The bottom line is, comparing never ends. Grass might seem always greener on the other side but they are using a ton of toxic chemicals to get that green. Your grass might get little brown occasionally, but you and the planet are healthier for it.

So keep up the good work you are doing and stay positive. Stay as the role model that you are.

We are counting on you. Not to pressure you or anything…

P.S. next time the honey gets rock solid like that, pour your tea right into the honey jar so that it will melt. No need to run the jar under the hot water. *wink*

Tyler November 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

This has been one of my favorite topics recently. I’m constantly trying to up the bar on myself and stretch for the next goal, but it can get exhausting.

On the other hand, sitting idly and doing nothing will cause complacency and apathy. There is really a fine line that each person needs to find to keep themselves in the happy zone.

Guilt, on either end of the spectrum, can really do a number someone trying to improve. Best to, like you said, find resolve in what you think is important and kick ass at it.

I wrote an article last week that’s really relevant to this topic. I’ll link to it here since you seem to be looking for more resources:

Erin aka Conscious Shopper November 21, 2009 at 9:00 pm

I can completely sympathize. I have a rule for myself called the 80/20 rule, which means that if I live environmentally responsibly 80% of the time, I can say “screw it” the other 20% of the time. Mostly, I try to live environmentally responsibly 100% of the time, but we all know that’s a really high bar, so the 80/20 rule means I don’t have to feel guilty if I mess up sometimes. And it also gives me some wiggle room as I transition my life to be greener and greener.

Also, you may not want to hear this, but solidified honey doesn’t mean it has gone bad. If you gently heat the jar, it will turn right back into honey. See this link from the Bee Folks:

Nicole Motzer November 22, 2009 at 12:30 am

I commend you on leading a “green” lifestyle, but the number one action one can take (that is by far more effective than reusable shopping bags or recycling) is to give up meat, yet people rarely mention this. A vegetarian uses 1/10 of the resources a meat eater uses, and animal agriculture accounts for up to 51% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Watch Institute.

If you really want to make a difference environmentally speaking, go veg or at least become a meat reducer. It is difficult for one to call oneself an environmentalist if one eats meat, for the meat industry is the largest contributor to climate change and environmental degradation as per a United Nations report.

Thanks for listening, I really enjoy reading your posts : )

Rebecca Rivera November 22, 2009 at 1:52 pm

I have been feeling really guilty as I am moving and sometimes time does not allow me to try to reuse, recycle, or give away an item so I just have to throw it away. I freecycle alot, but when it is soo much stuff I can’t wait around for people to take the item.

I recently had a yard sale that was a flop and most of the stuff (except the clothes-I did donate them to bins) went in the trash.

I felt so bad (still do.)

But I love the three idea, so the three things I will do:
-use all cloth in my house (I even use cloth toilet paper, but buy recycled for my guests.)
-recycle all plastic and glass properly
-donate all used, still good clothes to bins or thrift shop and cut those no good to wear anymore to use as rags

my goals:
-use my cloth bags at food store instead of plastic bags
-give away all the items I no longer need, but still have life left in them
-repurpose stuff I already own instead of buying new stuff

Thanks for the post!!

Kathy November 22, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Oh man can I relate to this! I think it’s even easier to get down on yourself when you have a website or blog on green living – I have one too – so I feel like I should be even better because I’m using the web as a forum to tell others how they can be more green. There are so many times that I’m just too tired or too overwhelmed or too something to do the right thing and then, after I do something that’s definitely ‘ungreen’ I beat myself up over it, which only makes it worse. I think you’re advice is great – anything you do is better than nothing at all!

heather November 23, 2009 at 7:23 am

@Shona- I so totally know what you mean! I was at a concert this weekend and it was the same thing. There were bins for recycling plastic bottles, but no one was using them. And you’re right, it’s a sad thing.

@Karen- Thanks so much for your sweet comment. And for that tip about the honey! That’s is such a great idea; I’ll definitely do that next time!

@Tyler- I loved your post! Thanks so much for linking to it. That bit about the toilet paper made me laugh out loud. Good stuff. πŸ™‚

@Erin- That is a really great philosophy. I’ve heard about the 80/20 rule applied to other things like business, but I never thought about applying it to going green. But it makes sense, and would definitely help with keeping my sanity! Thanks a lot for chiming in with that.

@Nicole- Going vegetarian is a huge way to go green! My husband and I went veg two years ago and have never looked back. It’s become such a part of our lives I didn’t even think about it when I was coming up with my list of 3 things! πŸ™‚ Thanks for bringing up that issue.

@Rebecca- Moving- I can totally sympathize. We’re moving soon too and I’ve been trying to do as much as I can early (donating, recycling, etc.) But I’ve had moves in the past where I had to do what you did. Don’t beat yourself up! Remember, we’re not beating ourselves up anymore. πŸ™‚ And kudos for going cloth in the bathroom! I’ve been considering doing that (for about forever now) and still haven’t made the leap. You rock.

@Kathy- Yeah, like I said to Rebecca, we can’t beat ourselves up anymore! Having a blog definitely makes me more accountable to myself, which is good, but I think you’re right; we can set the bar too high for ourselves. Blogging about going green is a huge way to make a difference in the world! No telling how many people you’re inspiring. So cheer for yourself for that! πŸ™‚

Kristin @ Prudent and Practical November 23, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Hi Heather!
I go through this too. Sometimes stuff gets stuck in/on a container and I can’t get it off. Do I waste time and water trying to get it clean? I throw it out and then feel bad about it. I also get guilt sometimes with the organic vs. local produce at the store. I agree with Kathy about accountability on a blog – sometimes I feel like that about being frugal.

Linda Greck December 3, 2009 at 3:01 am

Hi I just happened on your website as I was looking for a greener way to clean jewellery and this article caught my eye. I also feel very guilty and doubly so because food in a jar has spoiled so not only have I put the jar in the rubbish bin but I’ve also wasted the food. But do we really need to clean our jars? I know that recyclables get sorted and cleaned when they reach the recycling depot. Normally I give things a rinse just to keep the recycling bin ‘nice’ and the recycling company says to clean things but is it really necessary? Doesn’t it mean cleaning twice?

j carrington December 7, 2009 at 9:41 pm

You should really feel bad about throwing a jar of solidified honey in the trash. There was no reason to waste it. It’s not uncommon for honey to solidify over time. However, it is not spoiled in any way and can be revived by placing the jar in a microwave for 3-5 minutes to return it to its natural smooth honey golden consistency. ( A hot water bath works as well. )

RenaissanceRonin December 8, 2009 at 3:35 pm

@j carrington;

Wow… What a great comment! Do you pour salt in other people’s wounds too?

Give Heather a break. She works her tail off to help change things for the better EVERY day.

She has done nothing to “really feel bad for…”

Sheesh… Some people… And I thought that “I” was a jerk…

Comments on this entry are closed.