‘I’m not just a walking environmental billboard’

Leah Thomas speaks to Yahoo Life’s The Unwind about balancing her activism with her mental health. (Photo: Cher Martinez; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental healthfrom self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Leah Thomas knows that what we do online can have a real impact on the environment. That’s why the “intersectional environmentalist” — known as Green Girl Leah on her social media platforms — is so passionate about Pinterest’s new program to combat climate misinformation.

“I started to notice on other social media platforms — namely, you know, Facebook — [they] would have [posts] circulating that would [say things like] ‘climate change isn’t real’ or would be debunking climate science that I knew to be true,” she explains.

Since social media platforms are an “unregulated space” when it comes to “spreading climate misinformation and disinformation,” Thomas shares that it has been “really, really hard online for climate educators.”

“We’re a small niche, and we’re trying to talk to people outside of academia,” she notes. “It’s really difficult when other people are spreading information that is not true, especially when it is about saving our planet.”

Pinterest, she says, is showing their “integrity” by shutting down accounts that spread lies about climate change.

“It’s about saving our home planet, and being kinder to mama Earth,” she says.

The fight against climate change is an uphill battle, one that could easily take a toll on one’s mental health — especially when the situation can seem particularly dire. For Thomas, remembering that she’s more than just her activism has been one way she manages her mental health.

“There’s more to me and there’s more to other scientists or activists or creators or educators than just education,” she says. “I’m also a sister and I’m also a daughter. I’m also a cat lover. So I am A Real Housewives of Atlanta lover I try to remind myself and my community that I don’t exist for the sole purpose of education. That’s something that I can turn on and turn off, and I think that’s really, really important for people to know, so they can understand that educators are people who should also take care of themselves.”

That also includes managing her busy schedule. Next month she says she has more than 40 speaking engagements, which means she has to manage a busy work calendar along with time for herself. That may mean blocking out time on her calendar to reconnect with friends.

“It can be really hard at times, especially with a really busy schedule, and especially with something as urgent as environmental justice,” she muses. “I’m really trying to make sure that I stay rooted in my community and close with my friends. I’m not taking myself that seriously. Of course I respect and love the work that I do, but I also like to have fun and I like to relax. And I’m not just a walking environmental billboard.”

When it comes to self-care, Thomas jokes that she has yet to perfect her skincare routine. The one thing that is consistent for her is making sure she gets adequate sleep.

“I like to take naps when I can,” she says. “I like to sleep in when I can. I just like to recharge in that way.”

Self-care can also be good for the environment.

“I volunteered not too long ago … at a place that suffers with air pollution. And I really enjoy planting, so I went and I planted some trees with the community. I love doing that one for myself, because I think planting and gardening is kind of an act of active meditation, which is really nice,” Thomas shares.

Thomas, who says her diet is mostly plant-based, also makes sure to get in a little bit of activity daily.

“I’ve actually been lifting, which is really cool, with this really amazing trainer in Santa Barbara,” she explains. “That was something that I had never done before. Twice a week, I try to strength train, and it just feels really cool to like, go to the gym and lift weights. I’ve never done that. And then I also try to run at least once a week.”

When Thomas isn’t staying active, she’s spending a lot of time online. While climate change misinformation is certainly a problem, she’s also had to face criticism on her own page. Thomas says she’s learned to be open to holding herself accountable, as well as learning to let go when people don’t like her or her message.

“My platform just went viral about two years ago, so it was really extreme — I went from not having many followers, to suddenly having hundreds of thousands of people who have something to say,” she explains. “That’s not a normal or typical experience. I have to understand that it’s OK that not everyone is going to like me. There’s a quote: ‘You could be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be people who don’t like peaches.’”

Whatever criticism may come, Thomas says she’s learning to take it in stride.

“My friend told me, because I’m kind of a reserved person, ‘Never let the world take away your softness. Just be who you are,’” she recalls. “So I’m just being who I am. As the kids on TikTok say, ‘The girls who get it, get it, and the girls who don’t, don’t.'”

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