Leading a sustainable lifestyle is not always easy as it usually means going against practices that are considered to be the norm. However, according to several studies, based on the theory of cognitive stress, it is proposed that stressors can activate problem-based coping, which in turn leads to pro-environmental behavior. There are two main coping strategies: (1) emotion-focused strategies, where the goal is to get rid of negative emotions, through distancing, and denial; and (2) problem-focused strategies, where one concentrates on ways to solve the problem, such as searching for information about what one can do. The emotion-related coping is not only about getting rid of negative feelings, but also concerns strategies to evoke positive feelings that can work as buffers hindering negative emotions.
Some of our interviewed pioneers both in St. Petersburg and in Finland described feelings of stress and even burnout related to leading an alternative lifestyle, such as Zero Waste. The most prominent causes of stress among the Finnish interviewees were climate anxiety and aiming for perfection when leading a Zero Waste and generally a more sustainable lifestyle. As illustrated by the quotes below, the interviewees had found ways to alleviate the stress:
“At least I get the feeling that I must do something, so when you do, it reduces stress. It requires accepting that you cannot do it perfectly. Otherwise the stress gets worse when you start thinking that ‘I’m never going to be able to save this world’. But if you accept that I can take it to a better direction and that’s enough, then everything you do is good and it’s also good for yourself, because you feel you are being useful.” (female, 46, Finland)
“I have been exhausted sometimes, especially as I tend to aim for perfection, so yes at some point I was like ‘help’ because I took [the Zero Waste lifestyle] to the extreme and then I had to start loosening and making it more suitable for myself. So I have just accepted that I am doing my best, but in some things you just need to be flexible without feeling bad.” female, 28, Finland)
In St. Petersburg interviews, eco-leaders shared their strategies based on reducing the globality of challenges and focusing on positive emotions:
“At some point I read about dinosaurs and briefly tracked their history, and realized that if our planet coped with the disappearance of such a huge ecosystem, then it will also survive with everything else. One does not think about the end of the planet” (male, 42, St.Petersburg)
“You need to take care of yourself first of all ... If you forgot your shopping bag, this does not mean that you should not buy home groceries for dinner” (female, 33, St.Petersburg)
“The main thing is that you feel comfortable, if you feel uncomfortable, then it will be difficult for you to practice all this and treat it positively” (female, 31, St.Petersburg)
Orientation to intrinsic values and awareness of oneself as part of the community also reduces stress from the global nature of the tasks set and the unattainability of 100% success here and now:
“I have support inside... I clearly understand why I am doing this, I like it, and I don’t need any external factors...and I don’t care that no one supports me” (female, 31, St.Petersburg)
“When they tell me that I owe someone, I answer that I don’t owe anything to anyone, I do it because I think it’s necessary, if it makes you feel good, I’m sorry, I’ll try to do it another time to be bad" (male, 42, St.Petersburg)
“I am not doing this alone, and there is someone else who is doing this, and my contribution helps them, their contribution helps me, and all this moves on the rise, like a lump” (male, 35, St.Petersburg)
While the influencers in St. Petersburg didn’t often discuss how they cope with the stress of leading a lifestyle aiming for waste reduction, the Finnish interviewees did mention different coping strategies rather frequently and these findings will be presented thoroughly in an upcoming research article. However, based on the findings from both contexts it can already be said that the strategies, such as revision of values and guidelines, can support both beginners and experienced circular citizens when they find themselves struggling to lead a sustainable lifestyle.