Climate change continues to have a significant effect on our world, leading to warmer temperatures, severe weather events, rising ocean levels, and numerous other complications. According to NASA, the last nine years have been the hottest on record. If concern about the future of the planet has caused you to experience worry and nervousness, you are not alone. As Earth experiences new challenges, climate change anxiety has been on the rise. Understanding what climate change anxiety is and how it may manifest can help you identify and manage it. Keep reading to learn more about climate change anxiety, including its mental health effects and potential coping strategies.
Climate Change Anxiety
According to the UN, climate change is characterized by “long-term shifts in temperature”. Such a pattern can lead to food and water scarcity, rising seas, displacement of communities, natural disasters, and other serious challenges that impact people around the world. As these risks grow, they can also seriously affect our mental health.
Climate change anxiety is a term used to describe persistent worry or fear due to climate change and its negative effects. Also known as eco-anxiety, climate change anxiety can significantly impact an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It is important to note that climate change anxiety itself is not a clinical diagnosis, though it may be related to certain anxiety disorders.
Eco-anxiety is an increasingly common mental health concern. A poll conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 68% of adults experience climate change anxiety. Around 50% of the young adults surveyed said that their anxieties about climate change impact their daily lives.
Symptoms Of Climate Change Anxiety
Many of the symptoms of climate change anxiety are similar to those of and other anxiety disorders. These symptoms may include:
- Nervousness, worry, irritability, and sleeplessness
- A feeling of hopelessness or a sense of having no control over the future (potentially causing deterioration of identity in some individuals, depending on the degree of anxiety they’re experiencing and how successfully they’re able to cope with it)
- Anger or frustration over a perceived lack of progress toward a meaningful solution to climate change
- Guilt or shame about one’s contributions to climate change, even if one’s personal carbon footprint is small
- Obsessive thoughts about impending catastrophe
- A sense of grief regarding the loss of natural environments and wildlife
Risk Factors For Climate Change Anxiety
While anybody can experience the negative effects of climate change anxiety, some factors can increase one’s risk of developing symptoms. One of the primary risk factors is a pre-existing mental health disorder. Individuals living with depression, anxiety, or substance use disorder may have a better chance of experiencing eco-anxiety.
Additionally, people who have experienced significant consequences of climate change have been shown to have a higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges. People who have lived through heatwaves, superstorms, wildfires, and flooding may develop acute anxiety that can develop into a chronic condition. There is substantial evidence that survivors of a major weather event or disaster have an increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well. One study found a significant rise in PTSD, anxiety, and depression among survivors of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Another study found similar psychological impacts among people affected by the massive Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, Australia.
Additionally, people whose livelihoods depend on a stable climate and healthy environment may be more likely to experience climate change anxiety. For example, a farmer or rancher whose income depends on the weather may be more worried about drought than someone who works in an office building.
Young people are thought to be particularly affected by news about climate change as well. In a 2021 survey, 82% of children and adolescents reported feeling at least moderately worried about climate change. Young people’s heightened sense of concern may be due to their understanding that climate change will impact their lives more than previous generations. Their sense of anxiety and frustration may stem from their perception that they grew up during an existing climate crisis that they were unable to prevent. The same study found that many survey respondents also felt a sense of betrayal regarding their governments’ perceived lack of climate action.
Coping With Climate Change Anxiety
There are many ways to cope with climate change anxiety and manage its symptoms. Taking care of your own well-being first can help you be more effective in enacting sustainable change.
When it comes to eco-anxiety, you may choose to focus on doing what you can to help. This could mean signing a petition, supporting an organization focused on conservation, or educating others about potential solutions to environmental problems. Taking meaningful action can help you avoid dwelling on negative thoughts and give you the chance to make a positive difference in the world.
The following tips may help you manage anxiety and channel your concern for the planet into activities that are beneficial to your and the planet’s health.
- Try to practice self-care consistently. Sufficient sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise have been shown to improve mental health and boost resilience to stress and anxiety.
- Consider disengaging periodically from news related to the climate, especially if you believe that negative reports on global warming are contributing to your anxious thoughts and feelings.
- Focus on what is within your control to change. Climate anxiety is often marked by a sense of helplessness. One way to address this feeling is to assess your lifestyle for ways you can make it more sustainable, such as reducing your carbon footprint by biking, carpooling, or walking to nearby errands. You might also educate others on sustainable living, whether in person or through social media platforms.
- Collaborate with those who are taking action. Climate anxiety may be heightened by a sense of other people’s apathy toward the issue. By meeting individuals who have the same concerns, you may find a greater sense of hope and mutual support. You could do this by volunteering with an urban tree-planting group or getting involved in local environmental activism.
- Utilize stress-management techniques to reduce the impact of your symptoms. You can try deep breathing exercises to relax, meditation to quiet your mind, or muscle relaxation exercises to relieve tension.
- Consider keeping a journal so that you have an outlet for your feelings. Writing in a gratitude journal, for example, could help you remember what you appreciate about the planet.
Sunlight, fresh air, and green spaces can have a curative effect on stress and anxiety. If you do not have green spaces near you, caring for a houseplant can also benefit your mental health.
Online Therapy For Climate Change Anxiety
If you’re struggling to cope with the changing climate and aren’t sure how to manage your anxiety, speaking to a mental health professional could be a helpful next step to take. A therapist can work with you to find meaningful ways for you to act on your concern for the environment. They may also teach you coping strategies for anxiety and help you address comorbid mental health challenges.
A substantial body of research points to the efficacy of online therapy when treating anxiety. In one 2020 review, researchers assessed the effectiveness of 20 different online therapy interventions for managing generalized anxiety disorder, finding that participants experienced significant reductions in anxiety, worry, functional impairment, and depression, as well as improvements in quality of life. Among the benefits mentioned in the study is the “fast dissemination of available treatments” provided by online therapy platforms.
If you’re living with climate change anxiety, you may be concerned about the emissions involved in traveling to an in-person therapy session. With online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp, you can work with a licensed mental health professional remotely, through video call, voice call, or in-app messaging. BetterHelp works with a team of qualified therapists with diverse areas of expertise, so you’ll have a good chance of matching with someone who can address your concerns regarding climate change, the environment, and anxiety. Read below for a therapist review from a client experiencing similar challenges.
“Aaron is a climate-aware therapist and has helped me address climate anxiety and grief, among other concerns. Aaron has the wonderful ability to empathetically hold space for processing and also help one take practical steps forward. I appreciate his patience as well as his goal orientation.”
How can I calm my anxiety about climate change?
To calm anxiety about climate change, you may find it helpful to engage in climate change communication with knowledgeable individuals or groups who can provide practical steps to control climate change. This proactive approach can empower you and help you contribute to a more sustainable future.
Why is climate anxiety a problem?
Climate anxiety is a problem because it can significantly impact mental well-being. The chronic fear of environmental doom and climate-related disasters can lead to heightened stress and hinder individuals from participating in constructive climate activism.
What is climate change anxiety called?
Climate change anxiety is often referred to as eco-anxiety, characterized by a persistent worry about the natural world and the future of the climate system. It’s a normal response to growing awareness of environmental issues.
Is climate anxiety a trigger or threat for mental disorders?
Climate anxiety can be both a trigger and a threat for mental illness, as the stress from perceiving climate change as an existential threat may exacerbate existing conditions or contribute to the development of new mental health concerns.
Is climate change anxiety real?
Yes, climate change anxiety is real and affects many people who are increasingly concerned about the possibility of a natural disaster or other extreme weather events caused by climate change. It is a valid emotional response to global environmental challenges.
Who is affected by climate anxiety?
Climate anxiety affects a wide range of individuals, especially those who are younger or more engaged with environmental issues. However, it can impact anyone who experiences a deep connection to the natural world and is concerned about its alteration due to climate issues.
Can climate change stress cause depression and anxiety?
Stress from climate change can indeed lead to depression and anxiety, as the prospect of climate-related disasters and the perceived lack of control can affect one’s mental and physical health.
Do I have eco-anxiety?
If you find yourself frequently worried about the effects of climate change on the planet and future generations, and this worry affects your daily functioning, you may be experiencing eco-anxiety. Consulting with mental health professionals can provide clarity and coping mechanisms through climate aware therapy.
How many people are affected by climate anxiety?
An increasing number of people are affected by climate anxiety, especially in regions experiencing extreme weather events. It’s becoming a more recognized condition as more individuals become climate-aware and engage in climate activism.
Why are people afraid of climate change?
People are afraid of climate change due to its potential to cause widespread natural disaster, its impact on the natural world, and the disruption it can cause in their everyday lives. This fear can be seen as a normal response to a significant and pressing issue.
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