By: Ruby Banwait

2021, you’ve been testing my limits.

When I look back through a year’s worth of major headlines, I reflect on the hardships we have faced. From the ongoing global pandemic and the controversies regarding vaccinations, the repercussions of an economy on pause, the horrifying discovery of unmarked graves of residential school children, to a cascade of environmental disasters compounded by a disappointing global response to the climate crisis, I become numb. I feel like I’m suffocating beneath the weight of it all, like I’ve wiped out while surfing and being held down in the impact zone.

Howe Sound in the Salish Sea (PC: Ruby)

If I let it, my ‘Red Mind takes over -a state defined by neuroscientist Catherine Franssen as an “edgy high, characterized by stress, anxiety, fear, and maybe even a little bit of anger and despair.” In his book, Blue Mind, author, and marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols further explains this Red Mind state as… “a result of the physiological stress response that evolved to help us survive.” In certain situations, this response is extremely useful. However, as Franssen notes “As we encounter little stressors throughout the day, our stress hormones remain high and keep us in an agitated place.”  Heat-dome. Catastrophic wildfire season. Atmospheric rivers. Floods. Provincial state of emergency. Isolation. Panic buying. I’ve realized that two years of pandemic life events combined with my growing eco-anxiety has been fueling my Red Mind. It’s scary how easy it is to feel completely overwhelmed and incapacitated if I allow myself to remain in this psychological impact zone. Luckily, I’ve cultivated a powerful connection to nature that allows me to activate my ‘Blue Mind ‘which Nichols describes as a state of calm centeredness.

PC: Ruby

I’m in love with the sea. It’s where I feel the most joyful and the most connected to our natural world. For me, the Salish Sea is my personal rapid charging station, where I can get back to my best self. But I’ve learned that all water (salty or not) provides an avenue to calm centeredness. Whether you connect to water while hiking along a mountain stream, paddling on a lake, exploring a wetland, fly fishing along a river, or just listening to the sound of the rain, it’s a wonderful way to turn off our body’s instinctive stress response. Leaning into this connection while finding ways to actively protect the spaces I hold closest to my heart and mind is where I find hope. The ocean has taught me many life lessons, including how to ebb and flow when things are out of my control…which most things are. How I manage my response to life’s stressful situations is where my Blue Mind is most helpful. I’ve learned to keep my head above water by seeking out meaningful actions that help to preserve the natural world around me, which I so deeply rely on.

In January of 2021, I began working with an incredible team of passionate people at the Invasive Species Council of BC, developing a Community Science Network. We aim to engage people across the province to learn, report, and take action towards biodiversity protection. Our goal is to grow a network of motivated individuals who are not only informed with knowledge of invasive species identification and their impacts but equipped with the tools to report new invaders and actions that protect the natural spaces where we live, work, and play. I’ve come to discover that participating in community science programs helps combat my ecoanxiety while simultaneously contributing toward biodiversity protection. This realization has been empowering and meaningful to me both personally and professionally throughout this challenging year. It’s been transformative for me to help create the foundation for our Community Science Network, which encourages fostering a lasting relationship to our natural world not just as stewards, but as part of it. I remain hopeful that our small actions creates the ripple we need to grow into a tidal wave of environmental protection for our own survival and well-being. I choose a Blue Mind.

Learn more about ISCBC’s Community Science Network here.

Learn more about Wallace J. Nichols’ book, Blue Mind, here.

A champion of ocean conservation, CaNOE Board Member Ruby Banwait has explored many marine environments beneath the surface, from the Salish Sea to the Arctic Ocean. A Royal Canadian Geographical Society Fellow, she helped launch the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, a seasonal capture-and-release educational facility. Ruby’s desire to restore abundance in our oceans motivates her to connect people to the sea. As Community Science Lead with the Invasive Species Council of BC, Ruby encourages biodiversity protection and fostering lasting relationships with nature.

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