Climate anxiety is a type of anxiety caused by the ecological destruction of our planet. People with climate anxiety may experience fear and worry about the future, as well as depression and anger. Mild anxiety can help motivate people to take action, but severe anxiety can result in more serious mental health problems.
What Is Climate Anxiety?
Climate change is considered one of the biggest threats to global health.1 The planet’s average temperature has increased by around 1.8°F over the past century, a trend that is expected to continue unless significant action is taken.2 Climate anxiety, sometimes referred to as eco-anxiety, is a type of anxiety in response to this environmental precarity.3 While young adults seem to be the most affected, people of all ages can experience climate anxiety.
Climate anxiety can range from mild to severe. In mild cases, a person may feel worried about the future, which can prompt them to take action to help the environment and prevent climate change.1 Severe climate anxiety may lead to depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How Common Is Climate Anxiety?
Climate change is a serious problem that many people worry about because it impacts society health-wise, economically, politically, and environmentally. According to a 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association, approximately 68% of adults in the U.S. indicated feeling some climate-related anxiety. However, these effects may be disproportionately higher in the younger generation as shown in the same survey. In fact, 47% reported that climate-induced anxiety affected their every-day lives.4
Moreover, the climate crisis is not only straining the mental health of young Americans but also that of other young people around the world, causing anxiety, anger, and other stressful emotions among others. A recent large-scale analysis investigating climate anxiety among young participants from several countries demonstrated that 59% were very or extremely worried and 84% were at least moderately worried.5
How Does Climate Change Affect Mental Health?
Climate anxiety can cause a range of symptoms, from mild worry to more severe anxiety, depression, and anger.1 A person’s cultural background and relationship with the environment may also impact how they experience and cope with climate anxiety. For example, one study of Inuit people in Canada found that people with climate anxiety were at risk for substance use and suicidal thoughts.6
The signs of climate anxiety may differ between people and cultures. Symptoms of climate anxiety can include:7
- Anxiety that may range from mild worry to panic
- Anger at previous generations or people that are not eco-conscious
- Guilt about one’s previous actions
- Grief related to environmental losses
- Suicidal thoughts
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping problems
- Panic attacks
How to Calm Your Climate Anxiety
Experiencing climate anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some anxiety about the environment can be positive, since it can motivate you to make changes. If you’re experiencing anxiety about climate change, there are steps you can take to help yourself cope and calm your anxiety.
Here are 15 ways to cope with anxiety about climate change:
1. Channel Your Anxiety Into Action
Anxiety can be overwhelming and at times paralyzing. If you’re dealing with climate anxiety, you might feel helpless and question whether you can make a difference. It’s important to remember that we all play a part in helping our planet. Make an effort to channel your anxiety into positive action to help the environment. This will give you a sense of purpose and control over your anxiety.
2. Spend Time in Nature
Getting out in nature can benefit your mental health and help you cope with climate anxiety. Whether you are swimming, hiking, or simply sitting still, being in nature provides many benefits. It can help decrease stress and risk of developing certain mental health conditions, improve your mood, and enhance empathy and cooperation.8 Being in nature can also help you feel more connected to the environment.
3. Find Healthy Outlets for Your Anxiety
In addition to nature, finding other healthy outlets for your climate anxiety is important. There are many positive activities that are also positive for the environment. For example, you could consider biking or walking rather than driving, which can provide an endorphin boost and also reduce carbon emissions.
4. Join a Group Dedicated to Improving the Environment
There are many non-profit organizations dedicated to helping the environment. These groups are available on the global, national, or local level and focused on addressing issues like more sustainable agriculture, climate change, wildlife protection, and ocean and rainforest conservation. You can help in many different ways, from making a donation to giving your time.
5. Start Your Own Group or Community Project
You can also consider starting your own organization or community project. Social media makes it possible to reach tons of like-minded people who are also passionate about climate change. Starting your own project can help you feel more empowered and in control of your climate anxiety. Perhaps you can launch an awareness initiative, or start a community-based garden.
6. Advocate for Laws and Regulations
Joining or starting an advocacy campaign is another way to put your energy into protecting the environment and addressing climate change. There are many groups currently advocating for laws and regulations in this area, such as Earth Day. When it comes to environmental advocacy, there is no action too small.
7. Consider Ecotherapy
Ecotherapy is a form of therapy that emphasizes connections between humans and the natural world.9 It assumes that disconnection from nature leads to psychological problems like anxiety and depression. Ecotherapy incorporates animals, horticulture, and outdoor recreation into the therapy process. If you’re feeling disconnected from the environment or overwhelmed by climate anxiety, ecotherapy may be helpful.
8. Avoid “Doomscrolling” News Articles on Climate Change
Doomscrolling involves excessive internet searching and scrolling through bad news reports. When it comes to climate change, there are countless articles and new sources available. Though it is good to stay informed, it’s important to find a balance between being knowledgeable and aware, but not becoming overwhelmed with information. Too much exposure to stressful news can lead to more negative emotions and distress.8 To help manage doomscrolling, stick to a few legitimate news sources and set a limit on the amount of time you spend on news each day.
9. Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Over the past 20 years, carbon emissions have increased.2 Carbon emissions contribute to the build-up of greenhouse gases, which are responsible for increasing the temperature of the planet.11 The majority of greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity, and transportation. Some ways to reduce your carbon footprint include using energy-efficient appliances, reducing your use of heat and air conditioners, and using alternative forms of transportation.
10. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reducing, reusing, and recycling is another effective way to reduce your carbon emissions, which can help manage climate anxiety. Taking actions like these are healthy ways to channel your climate anxiety. You can do so by donating old clothing, reusing grocery bags, decreasing food waste, and buying products that are made from recycled materials.12
11. Choose Organic Foods and Products
Eating an organic diet is another way to help the environment. Organic products are made without any form of pesticides or fertilizers. It is considered a more sustainable alternative compared to traditional farming practices.13 Organic farming conserves water, uses less energy, improves soil fertility, and decreases soil erosion and pollution. If adopting an organic diet is too costly, you can start by slowly buying more organic products over time. You can also consider growing your own food without pesticides and fertilizers to reduce costs.
12. Connect With Other People Who Share the Same Passion
Connecting with other people who are also passionate about climate change and the environment can help you cope with climate anxiety. It can provide an opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings and brainstorm solutions together. Speaking with other like-minded people can help reduce loneliness and increase your motivation to channel your anxiety into positive change.
Meditation is a healthy way to deal with stress and anxiety. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider starting a meditation practice. You can even meditate outdoors, which can help you feel more connected to the environment. Just 10 minutes a day can produce good results.
14. Try to Maintain a Hopeful and Empowered Approach
When you’re dealing with climate anxiety, there’s a risk of feeling helpless. Unfortunately, taking a helpless and hopeless approach to climate change will only worsen your anxiety. It’s important to remain hopeful and empowered while taking action.
15. Get Support
If your climate anxiety continues to cause you distress, consider getting more support by either reaching out to family and friends, joining a support group, or seeing a therapist. Anxiety can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to suffer alone.
How to Help a Young Person Dealing With Climate Anxiety
As a society we need to be cognizant of the climate-induced stress that children and younger people are experiencing and provide support and guidance. Whether you are someone helping a youngster with eco-anxiety or a young sufferer yourself, there are ways to reduce it including the tips mentioned above and additional things like talking with other climate-concerned people, developing a climate-conscious attitude, and practicing a climate-conscious lifestyle.
Here are some tips for helping a young person experiencing climate anxiety:
- Learn together about what steps can be taken to diminish your impact on the environment.
- Share, process, and acknowledge climate-related fears and worries with trusted friends, a counselor, or by joining an online or in-person support group.
- Explore environmentally friendly practices like recycling, composting, taking fewer flights, eating locally grown produce, etc. and stick with them.
- Research organizations that focus on preserving the environment where you can connect with like-minded people.
- Get involved with local young activists who can assist you to properly channel the eco-anxiety with causes like increasing public awareness about climate change through advocacy or planting trees or community gardens together.
How a Therapist Can Help
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with climate anxiety and have been unable to manage it on your own, anxiety therapy can help. There are currently no evidenced-based treatments specifically for climate anxiety, but some available forms of therapy may be helpful. If you have experienced an extreme weather event or natural disaster, you may benefit from approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).14 Ecotherapy is also a form of therapy that can help people dealing with anxiety about the state of our planet.9
Finding a Therapist
To find a therapist, you can ask your primary care provider or a trusted loved one for a referral, or use an online therapist directory to search for therapists based on specialty, location, and experience. If you’re interested in seeking help for climate anxiety, be sure to ask a potential therapist about their experience working with climate anxiety and whether they identify as climate-aware. They can help you find purpose when it comes to doing your part for the environment.
Final Thoughts on Climate Anxiety
Climate anxiety is a common condition that is affecting many people, especially young adults, today. If you’re struggling with climate anxiety, there are steps you can take to connect with nature and help prevent further ecological destruction. If you’re still feeling anxious and overwhelmed after taking action on your own, consider seeing a climate-aware therapist.