We’ve all been there – you see yet another headline about climate change or hear another news report on a natural disaster, and you feel worried about what this means for the future of our planet and for the future generations that we hope will inhabit it.
Well, you’re not alone. Climate anxiety is all too real, and it's afflicting more and more of us every day. Climate anxiety, climate change anxiety, climate distress, or eco-anxiety, all of these terms describe our growing concern as it relates to the global climate crisis, and it's a threat to our mental health.
Anxiety manifests itself as a physiological response when a person feels that they are unable to respond and adapt to a particular situation. Climate change is considered an additional source of anxiety to our everyday stresses, which, although tolerable for most, can be a tipping point for those of us who are already experiencing other stressors. As explained by the American Psychological Foundation, climate anxiety "is likely to lead to increases in stress-related problems, such as substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and depression." Some of the symptoms associated with climate anxiety include obsessive thoughts, panic attacks, and insomnia.
When you're feeling anxious in the face of a changing Earth, try to think of something you can do effectively, and then chart your course to make it happen. There are thousands of ways to tackle a problem as immense as climate change. While a single one of them won’t fix the problem on its own, each can chip a piece off the carbon load. It’s up to you to determine your strongest tools and how you can wield them to have the most impact.
How can you turn your climate anxiety into actions that will ease your fears and contribute to our planet's health? Here are a few ideas:
Acknowledge It and Talk About It
It can be difficult to admit that your home, community, and the world-at-large are not what they used to be. But, a great way to combat climate anxiety and get a handle on a changing climate is by acknowledging what’s happening – and then talking about it with people you love and trust. By acknowledging how you feel, you can better determine how you should act to take care of yourself and the planet. Climate change isn’t something that can be solved by one person alone, so talk to friends and try to team up to help each other and help the environment.
Educate Yourself and Others
Knowledge is power. A lack of information or inaccurate information makes it difficult to understand and process abstract issues like climate change. Learn as much as you can about the science behind climate change and the responsibilities we all hold in addressing the issue. By educating yourself and others about the climate crisis, you will empower yourself and them to understand how you can act and advocate for the future of the planet.
Getting accurate information can also empower communities and help them feel prepared if an environmental crisis occurs. People find relief in educating themselves using credible information from trustworthy sources. So where can you learn more about our climate – and be assured that you’re getting scientifically accurate information? Two excellent resources include NASA’s Global Climate Change webpage and the United Nations IPCC webpage.
Be Optimistic and Resilient
A healthy amount of optimism helps a person grow and adjust after going through stressful events like natural disasters. People who reframe things in a positive light find that it helps them handle their climate anxiety better. Thinking positively can also break the cycle of negative thinking associated with severe or chronic anxiety.
People who think positively about their ability to overcome trauma and stress handle anxiety better than people who are less confident in their resiliency skills. To boost your resilience, the American Psychological Association recommends:
- Prioritizing relationships that provide encouragement and support
- Joining groups or organizations that provide social support
- Practicing self-care and mindfulness
- Avoiding negative outlets, like alcohol, to manage stress
- Being proactive and helping others
- Taking small steps to achieve your goals
- Accepting that change is a part of life
- Maintaining a hopeful outlook
- Keeping things in perspective
Change for the Better
Many people may find that positive actions can help reduce feelings of powerlessness and anxiety when it comes to climate change. Whether it's joining a local group of activists, volunteering with an environmental group, or learning to live more sustainably, every action can make a difference.
Small changes often lead to bigger ones, and they can also inspire others around you to act. If you want to fight off the climate anxiety you feel after reading or hearing about the climate crisis, make some changes that can make a big difference for your mental health and the environment.
Changes like reducing food waste, composting, and recycling are all easy steps to take. Try following a more sustainable diet by eating less meat and dairy. Taking public transportation when possible and investing in clean energy for your home are also easy and sustainable ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
Want to speak up and call out for action? Many community members just like you have been inspired by the climate crisis to take action through community clean-ups, local action groups, and even calling their local government and business leaders.
Speaking of businesses, flex your consumer muscle by supporting companies committed to eco-friendly manufacturing and sustainability. Shop smarter by making educated purchases to minimize waste. Consider purchasing pre-loved items to take part in the circular economy. Be on the lookout for companies that are reusing plastic to keep it out of our oceans and our already overflowing landfills.
Vote for the Earth
Consider environmental issues locally, nationally, and globally. Educate yourself on candidates' climate platforms, engage with them to understand their ambitions, and, finally, cast your vote for the candidates with clear, convincing, and ambitious plans to protect our planet.
Know When to Disengage
We may not realize it, but we can be incredibly influenced by what we see and hear each day in politics, the media, advertising, and social media. Being continually subjected to this information can cause anxiety, especially if it is inaccurate or biased.
So, while we can all benefit from educating ourselves about environmental issues, being over-exposed to an abundance of information or untrustworthy information can create climate anxiety. Reevaluate sources of environmental information or temporarily unplug from media sources to help lower stress levels.
So, do what you can to protect the environment and ward off climate anxiety, but try not to carry the weight of the entire world on your shoulders. Be patient. When it comes to making an environmental impact, just plant your seeds for good, water and nourish them daily, and someday you will see them sprout. Doing good things and having a positive outlook is what will keep you from giving up hope.
Climate anxiety may be difficult, but becoming the change you wish to see in the world can truly make all the difference.