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Living Lightly column

Overcome anxiety by taking action

By Dr Juliette Milbank

As I sit here at my desk, with the blind down keeping out the heat, I’m feeling what many are probably feeling: a tightness in my chest and throat, a pervasive feeling of worry and uncertainty.

I can forget them sometimes, and I’ll bury myself in a task to hide from them. But as soon as I pause, the feelings are still there.

Constant news reports, articles and social media posts since November have bombarded us with information, analysis and anecdotes on the bushfires and their links with climate change.

Not to mention the very real accounts from friends, neighbours and acquaintances connected to the affected locations.

The devastation is real and the realisations crushing. Lives and livelihoods, homes and communities, people and animals, are lost or irretrievably changed and we all feel a pervading dread and feelings of helplessness.

There is a temptation to retreat, to freeze, to think that we can’t do anything significant to help. Or to frantically gather all the excess food, blankets or other items that we can give away to the displaced.

But both of these actions, although mitigating the anxiety, don’t achieve substantive results: stuff that will affect the bigger picture.

Links between increasingly hotter weather and the propensity for more, and more extreme, bushfires are established.

What’s needed now is for communities to press their elected representatives to consult with them and experts and devise better disaster management plans, and climate change mitigation plans, and adaptation plans, so communities can survive and still thrive.

What we need is to acknowledge where we are at, with all its scary ramifications. Because acknowledgement is the first step to acceptance. And with acceptance we can take action in meaningful ways.

And as well as convincing our governments to take action, we can take action by volunteering, from preparing meals, building fences, and staffing evacuation centres, to preparing communities that are under threat.

I saw that Yackandandah locals had banded together to clean the gutters of buildings on their main street; actively being part of a community and contributing is a powerful way of alleviating anxiety.

So look around, see where you can make a difference. And on your way there, call or write to your local MP to tell them to do the same.