Contemplative practices and eco-anxiety

Many people are concerned about climate change and species extinction, but for some this worry is debilitating. People report feeling miserable, isolated and unable to take action on an issue that matters so much to us and the natural world. Spending time in the beauty of nature can feel like solace – but there is also the risk that it just feeds our worries about the plants and animals we are losing.

In this research we explore how contemplative practices from diverse traditions can be combined with nature experiences to address eco-anxiety. We consider what kinds of nature experiences and contemplative practices – individually and in combination - strengthen us to manage our feelings and to work collectively to take action on environmental issues. These findings can be used to develop effective eco-anxiety interventions for use in everyday and therapeutic settings.

University of Melbourne contributors:

  • Professor Kathryn Williams, Professor (Environmental Psychology), School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, Faculty of Science
  • Dr Katie Greenaway, Senior Lecturer In Psychology, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences
  • Professor Iain Walker, Director, Melbourne Centre for Behaviour Change, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences
  • Associate Professor Katherine Johnson, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences
  • Dr Cullan Joyce, Insight Fellow, Contemplative Studies Centre
  • Professor Dianne Vella-Brodrick, The Gerry Higgins Chair In Positive Psychology, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
Professor Kathryn Williams

Project lead | Professor Kathryn Williams

Kathryn Williams is an interdisciplinary and psychological researcher and teacher, seeking to contribute knowledge of human-nature relationships that can support flourishing of both people and the more than human world. Her research is directed toward a theoretical and empirical understanding of how physical environments shape human functioning and how human
thoughts and behaviour contribute to conservation of the natural world. Contemplation has been a theme in her research since her Phd, which focused on transcendent experience in forest environments, and has played a role in recent work exploring mindful engagement with nature.

The project team has deep and complementary expertise across the domains of nature experiences, contemplative practices and eco-anxiety. Kathryn Williams, Iain Walker and Katherine Johnson have decades of experience in the study of nature experience, with complementary expertise in the fields of
environmental, social and cognitive psychology. The team also spans contrasting perspectives on contemplative practices, with Dianne Vella-Brodrick’s expertise incorporating positive psychological approaches to mindfulness and Cullan Joyce considering contemplative traditions from a philosophical perspective. Expertise in eco-anxiety is also significant. Iain Walker has studied multiple aspects of psychological responses to climate change, including emotional responses as anxiety and
hopelessness. Katharine Greenaway has expertise in social connectedness and emotion regulation, and has applied this to assess eco-anxiety interventions.