5 Ways to Cope With Climate Change Anxiety
If the ongoing climate crisis has impacted your mental health, you are not alone. In fact, more than two-thirds of Americans are somewhat or extremely anxious about the impact of climate change on the planet, and more than half are somewhat or extremely anxious about its impact on their mental health, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
What is eco-anxiety?
Eco-anxiety, also referred to as climate anxiety, is a heightened emotional, mental or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system, like in temperatures, weather patterns, natural disasters, etc.
While researchers are noticing an increased connection between climate change and mental health, eco-anxiety is not currently a clinical anxiety disorder in the APA’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (used by health care professionals to guide the diagnosis of mental health disorders). Still, it is a source of immense stress that impacts our overall mental health and is the subject of ongoing research by experts in both climate and psychology fields.
While feeling anxious is an expected part of life, chronic anxiety is not. Symptoms of climate anxiety (and signs of anxiety overall) include the following:
- Panic attacks
- Loss of appetite
- Feelings of powerlessness, guilt or exhaustion
If any of these signs and symptoms have persisted for several weeks or more, we recommend that you reach out to your doctor or give us a call at 1-866-752-3859 to schedule a free assessment.
What causes eco-anxiety?
There are several causes of eco-anxiety. Most notable would be the climate crisis itself and any preexisting anxiety conditions that a person may have. There’s also the news. While staying on top of current events is a helpful and important way to stay informed, doom scrolling on the internet can trigger an unhelpful emotional response and further drive eco-anxiety.
What’s more, living through a natural disaster can cause climate trauma, which is defined by Action for the Climate Emergency as “the manifestation of the physical and mental consequences that are experienced during the climate crisis.” This trauma can trigger other underlying conditions and can cause anxiety or panic attacks.
For example, heat waves are linked to increases in mood disorders, according to 2020 research published in Frontiers of Psychiatry. If a person has experienced damage to their livelihood caused by extreme weather, such as storms or flooding, their chances of facing depression increases by 50%, according to 2020 research published in Environment Journal.
Who is impacted by eco-anxiety?
In a 2014 report, the American Psychological Association listed communities of color and those with low incomes among the most impacted by climate anxiety. They also noted that children, women, older adults, people with disabilities, individuals with preexisting mental health diagnoses and outdoor workers are also at high risk for a variety of reasons.
Not everyone experiences eco-anxiety in the same way. Indigenous peoples, for example, whose personal and cultural identities are often directly tied to the land through history and lived experience, or others who have an “environmental identity,” may grieve the environmental devastation and changes more directly.
How to cope with eco-anxiety
- Name and acknowledge your eco-anxiety.
While many people feel eco-anxiety, in the past, fewer felt comfortable to openly share what they were going through. Today, however, more and more people are coming forward and breaking their silence -- creating a healthy conversation cycle where you are free to express yourself without the baggage. If you haven’t talked about your eco-anxiety with someone you trust yet, make this the day to start sharing your feelings.
Tip: Learn how to share your mental health story.
- Build a belief in your own resilience.
If you find yourself stuck in a moment of overwhelm, pause to consider the stress you have overcome in the past. What strengths did you build through that process? What coping skills did you lean on to help you get there? How can you replicate them in this scenario? While practicing box breathing or going for a walk won’t stop the temperatures from rising, it will help you cope with your anxiety in the moment -- making you more prepared to take direct climate change action.
Tip: Practice a guided meditation and breathing exercise.
- Spend time in nature.
Simply being outside can mitigate some of the symptoms of climate anxiety. Connecting to nature helps us feel calm, and a 2020 review of peer-reviewed studies found that spending as little as 10 to 20 minutes outside daily can prevent stress and anxiety.
Tip: Reduce stress with self-care.
- Limit your screen time.
To prevent (or to ease) climate anxiety, be intentional about your media habits and put limits on your phone and/or television use. More specifically: no doom scrolling! If you find yourself deep into existential content threads or have been sitting on your couch reading frightening headlines while the clock ticks on, that’s a good time to toss your phone away and take a break.
- Take action.
One way to combat hopelessness and anxiety is to take action. Take a look to see where you can volunteer locally and create community with organizations that also want to make a change.
Tip: Join a support group to connect with like-minded others.
Finally, we encourage you to reach out for help if you are struggling on a regular basis. You are not alone and there are many people that can help you get started on a path to feeling better.
Reach out to our team today if you are looking for resources to support your mental health. Call 877-825-8584 to learn more.