Maintaining Balance During Challenging Times: A Review of Andrea Bell’s Talk

Aug 1, 2023 | Classroom Activities, Community News, Program Updates

Wayfinder Society is for environmental educators who believe in the power of collective action. It is an online platform hosting a robust offering of classroom and teaching resources that makes it easy for educators to create a fun, dynamic, and engaging classroom and to inspire their students through environmental awareness and action. Every other month, we highlight an educator in our network.

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Andrea L. Bell, LCSW, SEP, is a practicing somatic psychotherapist, ecotherapist and California NaturalistShe is the founder of SomaticWise, a therapy and ecological practice with the mission of supporting life, healing and regeneration during these troubled times

Last week, we held our first of a series of talks with Andrea Bell, an Ecopsychologist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. This series will explore the concept of ecopsychology and how we can help eachother discover self-regulation and well-being through engagement with Nature. Andrea Bell is the founder of SomaticWise, a therapy and ecological practice with the mission of supporting life, healing and regeneration. She’s currently pursuing a Doctor of Arts in Ecopsychology to explore the relationship between people, planet, and mental health. 


This year, Andrea joined Algalita as an Advisor to explore how we might incorporate ecopsychology into our resources for environmental educators. Being in the field of plastic pollution education, we have long understood how learning and teaching about plastic pollution can take an emotional toll. We’ve always wanted to gain insights into how to better support educators and students doing this work, which is why we are so thrilled to have connected with Andrea. 


During our first co-created event with Andrea, Maintaining Balance in Challenging Times, we explored the basics of how our human nervous system is wired.  The program balanced discussion of the various ways ecoanxiety manifests in our lives, and a tangible feel of the power of community support.  

During the event, Andrea introduced the eerie concept of “Ecocide”, which she defined as the destruction of the natural environment by deliberate and negligent human action.  Andrea believes it is the biggest problem we will face as a global community today – and we agree! We feel the human impact of these things. We feel it when we find ourselves experiencing the hottest days on record. We feel it when natural disasters grow more common, stronger, and more destructive. We feel it when trying to explain this to younger generations. It’s what trauma therapists call a moral injury. And we are living it. 


Andrea reminded us that Ecoanxiety is not pathological. Rather, it’s a normal response to the shifting baselines of the environment trending toward further degradation all around us. After introducing participants to the basic concepts of ecopsychology and self-regulation, Andrea flipped the script and led us down an encouraging path toward solutions and positive action. 


Prior to the event, Andrea asked participants to bring an item that helped us connect with the natural world. These items came in handy after we talked through the difficulties of balancing ourselves while living in a very imbalanced environment. Participants began sharing stories of their personal relationship with the natural world. One educator from Ireland shared how she goes out to the pastures to watch the wild horses roam. Another participant shared how tending to their garden helps them cope with the heaviness of the environmental crisis. Afterward, Andrea asked us how we were all feeling. There was a shared consensus that we were, in fact, feeling better as a whole. Without realizing it, we were co-regulating ourselves and each other by simply focusing on the good and plentiful.  


Another tool Andrea introduced to us was a graphic created by Dr. Stephen Porges describing his “Polyvagal Theory”, a popular construct used by psychologists to explain emotional regulation, social connection and the fear response. Specifically, Polyvagal Theory focuses on how we can regulate our emotions in times of trouble through the lens of the flight, fight, and freeze responses. Essentially, we can observe these responses as energy moving through the body. By becoming more aware of our own nervous system, we can change the course of this anxious (and potentially harmful) energy to fuel true change within our own lives, communities, and classrooms.  


“Take for example, a middle school teacher. If self-regulation is about being in balance, I could only imagine the long list of moments in an educator’s day that could bring them out of balance. The idea is that if the educator is familiar with Polyvagal Theory when these moments of imbalance occur, they can assess where they are at on the Polyvagal chart to help them course correct and bring themselves (and their students) back to center.” – Andrea Bell 


As an ecopsychologist, Andrea has found Polyvagal Theory to be an important tool in her own practice. She believes using and diverting the energy that arises in times of imbalance can be a great tool to inspire positive change through action. By understanding how we are wired, we can determine how this excess energy needs to be expressed. Is it calling your Senator advocating for issues you care about? Going on a run? Building a community garden? Planning a beach cleanup? Doing a household audit to assess your footprint on the planet? Whatever the action is, it is safe to say that the most effective action and clearest solutions come when we are able to regulate ourselves. The possibilities of creating lasting change for our communities and local environment are infinite! 


It can also help us answer the question, “What do we do with this mess?”. The state of our land, waterways, and ocean is a massive discussion that has heavy implications on our society but is one that needs to happen. Often times, these discussions begin in the classroom – where educators work tirelessly to prepare and equip their students for a thriving and abundant future. 


Educators have the next generation in their hands and in their classrooms every day. We hope this event, and Wayfinder Society for Environmental Education as a whole, provides adequate tools to help foster a sustainable and positive learning environment for students and educators. This event dipped our toes into the increasingly important topic of ecopsychology and we look forward to diving deeper in the future. We hope to continue to provide a space for Andrea to share her knowledge and experience with us and our educator community, so stay tuned for future talks of this special series.