With the hottest year on record being in our rearview mirror and 2021 being on target to become one of the ten hottest years ever, it has become clear that climate change is a reality. It can be easy to feel hopeless about the future of our wonderful planet, and it may not surprise you to learn that climate change anxiety is real.
But what exactly is climate change anxiety, and what causes it? And what can you do to manage it? This article will help you understand climate anxiety and everything you can do to improve your mental health.
Climate Change Anxiety
Climate change brings with it numerous effects on the planet and our well-being. The causes and effects of climate change can impact our physical health through pollution, food scarcity, heatstroke, and more. However, these changes can also affect our mental health.
Climate change anxiety, also called eco-anxiety, is used to describe persistent worries about the Earth, the planet’s future, and the environment. While this anxiety can help to encourage and motivate someone to do more to help the planet, it can also negatively impact a person’s ability to function properly.
Eco-anxiety is fairly common, and a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 68 percent of adults have some amount of climate change anxiety. Not only that, but around 50 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 said that their anxieties about climate change impact their daily life.
What Are The Symptoms Of Climate Change Anxiety?
There are numerous symptoms of climate change anxiety, and many of them are similar to a general anxiety disorder or other anxiety disorders. Eco-anxiety can cause acute effects after a natural disaster or other experience. It can also cause chronic effects resulting from climate change’s impact on the planet over time. Both acute and chronic eco-anxiety can harm mental health and well-being.
Acute climate change anxiety can be so severe that it causes trauma, shock, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can make it difficult to maintain positive, healthy relationships. It can also contribute to insomnia, and increase irritability or aggression.
Both acute and chronic climate change anxiety can increase stress levels and contribute to depression. This may coincide with a feeling of hopelessness or a sense of having no control over the future. It can even lead to a deterioration of identity in some cases.
Some people with eco-anxiety may become angry or frustrated with the lack of progress toward a meaningful solution to climate change. It may be frustrating to see the slow progress that we are making toward pollution reduction, and the efforts to protect the environment may seem like they are done in vain.
Climate change anxiety can also lead to guilt or shame about your contributions to the issue, even if they are small or nonexistent. You may feel like you have personally not done enough to help with the situation.
Finally, you may have obsessive thoughts about the climate or the environment. This often goes with a feeling of grief towards the loss of environments or wildlife as the world continues to change. A place that you used to enjoy and love when you were younger may not be the same now, and that can cause a feeling of loss.
Risk Factors For Climate Change Anxiety
While anybody can feel the negative effects of climate change anxiety, some factors can increase the risk of developing symptoms.
The people who are most likely to be affected by eco-anxiety have experienced significant consequences of climate change. While you do not have to have experienced a major event, those who have battled through heatwaves, superstorms, wildfires, and flooding may develop acute eco-anxiety that can develop into a chronic condition.
There is substantial evidence that a major weather event can impact mental health. One study found that Hurricane Katrina in 2005 contributed to a significant rise in PTSD and other mental health problems. Other research comes to similar conclusions about other disasters.
In addition, climate change disproportionately affects communities of color. This may put them at greater risk of developing eco-anxiety.
Those whose livelihood depends on the climate and the environment are more likely to suffer from climate change anxiety. For example, a farmer or rancher whose income and success depends on weather may be worried.
Finally, a recent 2021 survey found that younger people are more affected by climate change anxiety because they are generally more concerned about the environmental impact of climate change. This is because of a few different factors, including the idea that it will impact their lives more and that they grew up in the climate change crisis without having any ability to enact change to prevent it.
How Can Therapy Help With Climate Change Anxiety?
More and more therapists are working with clients who have anxiety due to climate change or clients whose mental health is made worse by eco-anxiety. It is important for a therapist to appropriately address these worries and fears that their clients express about the planet and the environment.
Since therapists look at every component of a person’s life, they must address any client’s fears about climate change. Therapy can address personal problems with those worries and fears in mind. The worries and anxieties that a person suffers from can be managed with climate change because it is a factor for their symptoms.
Several techniques may be beneficial for easing the symptoms associated with climate change anxiety. Mindfulness techniques can help people cope with and manage their negative emotions. Climate change anxiety can bring strong feelings of grief, fear, and worry. Mindfulness is an effective way to calm those negative emotions and ease the thought patterns that contribute to those feelings.
A therapist may use guided meditation to guide their clients through visualization of peaceful surroundings. This can also help address the worries and connect those feelings with climate change or the environment.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, CBT, can also be effective for treating some of the negative effects of climate change anxiety. This is because it helps to address unhealthy thinking patterns. Then, those negative patterns can be dissolved and replaced with healthier thinking. This can profoundly affect how a person feels about climate change’s impact on the world.
A therapist may also help to promote motivation to make a positive impact on the environment. A therapist can listen to your anxieties and explore different ways to help reduce your carbon footprint or take other steps to combat climate change.
This can help you feel empowered and useful as the world strives to progress towards a meaningful solution to the environmental impact of climate change. This is a way to reduce the helplessness and hopelessness that eco-anxiety can cause.
Doing Our Part
BetterHelp is committed to building a healthier world along with healthier people. It’s important to note the potential environmental benefits of telemedicine and online therapy.
When you meet with a therapist online, you are reducing the pollution caused by the drive to a doctor’s office. In addition, the therapist doesn’t need to pay for the energy required to work in a different space. BetterHelp’s parent company (Teladoc Health) estimates that 5,000 metric tons of CO2 are avoided for every one million virtual appointments.
Those most impacted by climate change, such as farmers or people in natural disaster areas, may have limited access to mental health professionals. BetterHelp aims to help provide a lifeline to people in that situation to reduce climate change anxiety’s impact on mental health. Read below for therapist reviews from people experiencing similar issues.
“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.”
Coping With Climate Change Anxiety
You can do some things to cope with your climate change anxiety and manage the distressing symptoms. First, take care of yourself. Developing healthy sleeping and eating habits and exercising regularly can help to improve your mental health and resilience to stress and anxiety. You may also want to disengage from negative news for a while if you feel like it may be contributing to your anxious thoughts and feelings. It’s important to note that in order to enact sustainable change, you first need to take care of yourself.
You can also look at your lifestyle for ways that you can change to benefit the environment. You can adopt new practices that can make a difference. It can also model environmentally friendly behaviors and educate others on ways to help with climate change.
You might try to reduce your carbon footprint, carpool or ride a bike, or start to recycle. You can also communicate with organizations working towards a solution for climate change and volunteer or donate. These actions can make you feel more in control and useful.
Finally, you can try some anti-anxiety techniques. While these will not directly address the environment, they can help you cope with the negative symptoms that you may be feeling. You can try learning a breathing technique to relax the mind and body, or you can keep a journal to learn about your negative thought processes so that you can work to change them.
Climate change anxiety is real and becoming more common as people undergo significant changes to their lives because of severe weather events. However, that does not mean that you have to suffer from negative symptoms associated with your concern about the environment. In fact, you can check out BetterHelp to match with a therapist that you can speak to from the comfort of your home. Doing this also means that you do not have to pollute while driving to an office, and you also do not have to wait days or even weeks until an available appointment.
However, if you are not ready for therapy, you can still learn relaxation and stress-reduction techniques. You can also make some lifestyle changes for your overall health and wellness and the environment’s health.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Helps With Climate Anxiety?
Several things can help with climate anxiety. You can try to focus on the things that are actually within your control. Then, you can make positive changes based on those things. The aspects that you could change could be how you manage your feelings and thoughts and your efforts to improve your impact on the environment.
You may also want to try keeping a gratitude journal. This can help you be grateful for the things that you have. You can even focus that gratitude’s on the planet and environment and everything about it that you are still grateful for.
How Do You Deal With Eco-Anxiety?
Everybody deals with their anxieties a little bit differently. I like to strive to be the best that I can be. When it comes to climate change, I focus on doing what I can do to help. This could mean signing a petition, supporting an organization, or educating others about potential solutions to environmental problems and concerns.
I also like to write in a journal. This can help me put things into perspective. I think it is always important to remember that worrying does not help alleviate anxiety or climate change’s harm to the planet.
Why Should We Worry About Climate Change?
While climate change anxiety can harm well-being and quality of life, some worry can contribute to a sense of urgency which can propel individuals to find solutions and contribute to positive changes. We should not worry so much that we cannot manage our relationships or remain productive, but the more people worry about climate change, the more likely positive changes will occur.
How Does The Environment Affect Your Mood?
I love spending time in nature, and research explains a possible reason that so many people like being outside. Sunlight, plants, and animals can all help to benefit our mental health. The natural environment can help us relax, and if you are anything like me, you like to spend some time outside every day. If you cannot go outside, it can even be beneficial to your mental health to keep a house plant around!