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  • Writer's pictureKatie Gardner

Climate anxiety

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Climate anxiety… this is a term I’ve seen thrown around with increasing frequency over the past few years. Typically it comes up in conjunction with climate protests or in thought pieces about the issues surrounding climate change. This piece will succinctly explain what climate anxiety means, its prevalence, and who it tends to affect, as usage of the term will likely increase in frequency over the coming years.

What is “climate anxiety”?

According to medical journal the Lancet, climate anxiety, otherwise known as eco-anxiety, climate change anxiety, or climate distress, is anxiety related to the climate crisis and/or threats of environmental disasters. Symptoms include typical anxiety-related symptoms, such as panic attacks, insomnia, or obsessive thinking. In addition to existing on its own as a psychological effect, these feelings of anxiety can compound other stressors to exacerbate existing stress-related issues and negatively affect mental health.

Wait, is this actually real? Who does it affect?

Little data is available to allow the prevalence of climate anxiety to be quantified.

However, there are indications that younger generations are affected by the mental health disorder. It is more prevalent in youth than adults (57% of youth feel afraid and 43% feel hopeless, according to a recent survey). The recent lawsuit Juliana v. United States was filed by a group of young people attempting to force the U.S. government to fight climate change and end fossil fuel subsidies. A district court judge ruled that access to a clean environment was a fundamental right, but it was later reversed and dismissed due to lack of standing to sue. This decision has been since appealed and is pending hearing.

Mental health professionals and researchers insist it is a reasonable response to an existential threat, especially for the generations who will see the effects in their lifetime.

How to manage the anxiety?

  1. Acknowledge the validity of these feelings & climate change: Researchers have stressed that mitigation is key to relieving anxiety by countering “anxious passivity and defeatism” rather than allowing oneself to cope by feeling helpless or denying the existence of the problem. Mitigation includes promoting resilience and managing stress.

  2. Discuss climate change & associated emotions: One counselor uses scuba-diving principles to help clients: Stop. Breath. Think. Connect. Act.

  3. Take Action: Manage anxiety by joining activists, learning how to live a more sustainable life, or working to combat climate change. This can help with feelings of helplessness as action can help counteract these fears. A study of a program designed to help those suffering from eco-anxiety, Carbon Conversations, found that emotional engagement helps change in habits and helps face worries about climate change.

  4. Educate Yourself & Others: This can help you understand what is going on and allow headlines to be put in context. Check out the IPCC, NASA’s climate change page, or the UN.

Groups working to educate and provide support

Several groups are working to help those suffering from anxiety related to climate change, including the following groups:

Thanks for reading, as always!

Katie @ Sustainably Yours, LA

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