A new form of depression and anxiety is cropping up in therapy sessions: people overcome with emotions associated with the impacts of climate change and our world’s uncertain future.
As we witness natural disasters like record wildfires, heat waves, and hurricanes, many of us are left with mounting anxiety about the future or even post traumatic stress. In search data provided by Google, Grist found that searches for “climate anxiety” increased by 565 percent from October 2020 to October 2021, highlighting the inner thoughts of many Americans.
A New Focus for Therapy
A new affliction for professionals to treat, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) now recognizes climate change anxiety as an increasing threat to mental health. The APA defines eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”, yet many professionals feel ill equipped to treat it. In recent years, professional climate psychology certification programs and resources have started to appear, helping professionals treat the anxieties of our changing world. The field is likely to continue to grow and evolve as more people feel the impacts of climate change and seek out support.
The Future is Worried
These strong feelings reach beyond adults and are impacting children and young people who see an uncertain future. A recent study by the U.K’s University of Bath and the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health surveyed 10,000 children between the ages of 16 and 25 in 10 countries to gauge worries associated with climate change. The study found that 59 percent of respondents were very or extremely worried about the impacts of climate change and 50 percent reported emotions of sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, helplessness, and guilt. The study was the first of its kind and notes a growing number of young people feeling helpless about the future.
HOW CAN WE COPE WITH THESE FEELINGS?
We often share actions individuals can take to mitigate the effects of climate change, but how can we deal with the emotions that seem greater than us? Worrying about climate change is valid but living with these feelings can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips for doing so:
- Experience the emotions
Allow yourself to experience the emotions. This can be scary and easy to push feelings aside. Try identifying where you feel the emotions in your body or put words to it.
- Nurture nature and your feelings
Spending time in nature is a great way to reset and reconnect to your natural environment. Many professionals suggest mindfulness practices which connect your senses to a place. Spending time outside is also a way to lead a healthier life. Research shows people spending 120 minutes a week outside tend to be healthier.
- Perform mindful acts
Mindfully nurturing the earth and making choices that lessen your impact can also quell your own worries. Try planting pollinator friendly plants, volunteering in a nature preserve, or start composting. When you do these things, think about the impact you are making and celebrate it.</a>
- Talk about your eco anxiety and find others who are feeling similarly
Finding friends, family, and like-minded individuals who are experiencing the same emotions can help you realize that you are not alone. Many people are going through the same sets of thoughts and feelings. The Climate Psychology Alliance hosts a Climate-Aware Therapist Directory to help people dealing with the impacts of climate change. To connect with others the Good Grief Network offers a 10 step style program for communities and individuals.
- Advocate and take breaks
A great way to influence the change you want to see in the world is to be the change. Find ways to advocate for climate change issues you care about. Be mindful that advocating for change can be tiring. Take breaks when you feel burned out or start to feel cynical. Many long time activists promote the power of taking a step back to ensure you are committed for the long haul.
- Celebrate success
It is easy to feel overwhelmed with what needs to be accomplished and the irreversible damages done but take the time to celebrate past, present, and future successes in climate change mitigation. The EPA was not established until 1970 and allowed greater regulation of air, land, and water quality for public and environmental health concerns. Make a point to celebrate when new climate change legislation is passed or you make an ecological decision at home like installing solar panels for a cleaner source of energy.
Need More Help?
Many of us have disconnected our lives from our environment and the impact we make on it. Culturally, we need to accept this growing unrest and build a society that cannot only heal itself, but also the environment. If you feel you could benefit from support, look into joining a Good Grief Network 10 step support group or search out a therapist who specialize in climate change anxiety.
Finally, being anxious about our changing climate is okay and you are not alone with these feelings. Many aspects of our future are unknown, but we’re all in this together and can support one another through these uncertain times.