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Bedtime eco-stories

Story Weaver Joana Avi-Lorie reflects on her research on children’s eco-anxiety, her own eco-anxiety and her motivations. We also share resources for people (adults and families) dealing with eco-anxiety.

Cover image – illustration by Joana Avi-Lorie

After witnessing the aftermath of a wildfire in Pedrogao Grande (Central Portugal) and running away from a second wildfire, I felt extremely sad, worried and scared for my life and the lives of the humans and animals in the community. The awareness that those people (and me, when living with them) were sitting on a ticking bomb was terrifying. And connecting it to a wider problem – climate instability, global warming, irresponsible practices, all that contributes to and generates a climate crisis – only made me feel worse. Suddenly, I had no place to run to where I could be safe for the rest of my life. Not Lisbon. Not Scotland. Eventually, something – a fire, a flood, resource scarcity, economic struggle, conflict – something would catch me. The realisation that I was never really safe anywhere was brutal. It’s not like realizing you’re mortal and your body is fallible, and you can just get very sick or have an accident, that you learn to accept, it is the human condition and the cycle of life. A climate crisis is not.

Yet surviving the fire, and surviving another day each day, renews my vow to keep writing, talking and learning about the environment and us in it, and communicating the problem.

There is a feeling of resentment associated with it. Resentment towards those who knew this would happen and have done nothing to mitigate it when they could. There is a sense of resentment towards folks who don’t care, who just want to jolly carry on and not join the fight because they think that you, the brainwashed crazy alarming climate activist, are the enemy. But there is also an understanding and even compassion towards all these people who like me, are just humans doing what they can to their best knowledge and ability as well as informed by their own trauma and beliefs. And in the lines between these conflicts, greedy actors continue to divide and conquer.

The more I think about the complexities of the situation around my feelings and my experience, the more a drama takes shape in my mind. A story of heroes and villains and familiar plots. In my MSc project, I theorized and showed how stories helped me cope with my eco-anxiety. What I want to do now for my PhD project is to explore how they can help children too.

I am now a mother to a child who will eventually become aware of climate change. Regardless of the progress that we can make until he becomes aware of it, it will still be there, unfortunately. I have the responsibility of caring for my son and protecting him, and this involves giving him survival tools, coping tools, thriving tools… Giving him ways of becoming resilient to the challenges of life. And giving him ways of exploring his feelings about life and a life impacted by climate change and environmental degradation – all the emotions that will arise from this awareness and conflict.

I am curious to find/explore how children are talking about eco-anxiety, how they feel it and therefore how they think that it impacts or afflicts them. This will perhaps come from how they perceive the climate crisis, how they see the world affected by it. And where does this information come from? Does it come in images or words? Does it come in stories? Do they intuitively make stories out of it as a way of organizing things for themselves before they communicate them?

Dr Caroline Hickman, one of the leading names in the field, is the first person I found talking about eco-anxiety in 2018 when I became interested in doing this research. Her therapeutical work and research focus on children’s eco-anxiety and she admits that she has ‘felt desperate to cut through the noise of the debates about what we should be calling this “thing” called eco-anxiety, to just stay curious about what it feels like for children, to have their distress seen, heard and understood.’ (Hickman, 2020). This quotation from Hickman offered me a way through the debate and set a tone for the exploration at the core of my research project. Showing how it feels for children to have their anguishes about the climate crisis acknowledged in a context where they still can play and have fun with ideas through story might open up ways for us, researchers, and also for therapists, counsellors, educators, parents and guardians to “stay curious” about it. Through curiosity, like the characters in stories, we find new things about the world and ourselves in it.

I hope to achieve a richer more in-depth conversation in the space between story, experience and reflection to produce an honest representation of children’s experiences of eco-anxiety. And to allow for this to happen, another matter to consider is that in literary fiction, events are presented symbolically (through language) rather than representationally (through images and sounds), so readers may have more control over emotional distance than viewers (Cupchik, 2002).

Narrative theory says that the stories that we tell gives meaning to our human experiences (Phipps & Vorster, 2015). White (1989) and other scholars, influenced by literary theory (Bruner), cultural anthropology, non-structuralist psychology, and post-structuralist philosophy starting in the late 1980s, suggested that metaphors and other narrative structures and archetypes can provide a way for individuals to describe and present the issues in their lives. In doing so, they can find meaning and value for these issues.

My interest is in how stories work as a mental and emotional practising ground in the face of the climate crisis challenge and how stories can shift our perspective – first virtually and then potentially in our reality affected by the climate crisis.

It has been difficult to truly open my soul to this research, and it still feels like a collage of ideas, feelings, and desires, stitched together with better intentions than skill. It has been difficult because of the fragmented nature of life raising a child and managing a household while studying and working, but also because I am afraid that if or when I open it, I will never stop pouring. However, I am profoundly curious about how stories work, how do they make us tick and how they can save us. If you are too, perhaps consider joining me in October for a skillshare through SCCAN Stories on stories and eco-anxiety in children. And please do get in touch either through or if you want to share or discuss anything on this topic.

Thank you,



Cupchik, G.C. (2002). The Evolution of Psychical Distance As an Aesthetic Concept. Culture & Psychology, 8, 155 – 187.

Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mayall, E. E., Wray, B., Mellor, C., & van Susteren, L. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health5(12), e863-e873.

Phipps, W. & Vorster, C. (2015). Refiguring Family Therapy. The Family Journal. 23. 10.1177/1066480715572978.

Special report on narrative therapy, Life Matters, ABC Radio National, broadcast 23 December 1999 (repeated 8 October 2002).

Writing on the Mind – the power of story telling, All in the Mind, ABC Radio National, broadcast 1 October 2005.


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Eco-Anxious stories