Anxiety about the planet's future has become a visible concern for many. We take a look at what climate anxiety is, its impact on our mental health, and provide tips on how to cope with these feelings
Anxiety about the planet's future has become a visible concern for many due to increased coverage of rising temperatures, melting ice caps and severe weather events. The climate's unpredictable nature can have an overwhelming impact on our emotions and mental health.
Google data shows an increase in "climate anxiety" related online search queries. In fact, the first ten months of 2023 saw 27 times more English search queries related to "climate anxiety" than during the same time period in 2017.
Counselling Directory reports a similar trend. In the last 6 months (May - October 2023) the term 'climate and eco-anxiety' has been searched over 6,000 times on the website, indicating not only a rise in people seeking information on the subject, but also looking for professional support.
Experiencing changes in our natural environment combined with feelings of personal guilt may evoke a range of emotions for some of us, from rage and disappointment to dread, helplessness, and hopelessness. We take a look at what climate anxiety is, and how it can impact our mental health whilst providing tips on how to cope with these thoughts and feelings.
Climate anxiety is a type of anxiety that is particularly linked to awareness of climate change. Eco-anxiety is a larger phenomenon and is a more widespread form of anxiety. This refers to the knowledge of risks to environmental health, such as pollution and biodiversity loss.
Eco-anxiety and climate anxiety, taken together, represent a broader issue where our mental health is impacted by the state of the world as a whole.
How does climate anxiety impact mental health?
Although climate anxiety is not a diagnosed mental health condition, it can feel much like other anxiety disorders. Common symptoms include:
- Persistent concern for the environment to the point where it affects your well-being and daily life.
- Overwhelming emotions brought on by worries about climate change, such as despair or hopelessness.
- A significant change in behaviour such as adjustments to your lifestyle, diet, or habits to lessen the impact on the environment.
- Physical symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, panic attacks or headaches.
Counselling Directory member and therapist Donna Morgan shares her experience of how climate anxiety can impact our mental health.
“Climate anxiety is a term that describes the growing unease individuals feel in the face of climate change. This form of anxiety can manifest as a deep concern for the environment and distress over the future of our planet.
“This state of heightened alarm can lead to persistent worry, feelings of helplessness and a foreboding sense of doom regarding the future of the planet and the life it sustains. This ongoing stress can also contribute to physical health issues, creating a feedback loop that exacerbates mental health struggles, highlighting the need for supportive interventions and coping mechanisms to mitigate these impacts.
“In my professional observation, it is increasingly prevalent among teens, who often rank it as their foremost source of stress. This worry, while rooted in legitimate environmental challenges, can subtly infiltrate one’s daily life, leading to a sense of helplessness and a persistent low mood.”
5 tips for coping with climate anxiety
1. Stay informed whilst establishing boundaries
It's important to educate yourself on the climate crisis yet consuming excessive amounts of unsettling news can exacerbate anxiety. Media outlets may frequently highlight the negative aspects of news stories related to climate change, so it's important to find a balance. Keep in mind that you might not be seeing everything there is to see and look for encouraging stories to balance things out. Consider taking steps such as limiting social media usage and managing screen time.
2. Take part in fulfilling activities
Since climate change is an ongoing issue, it's important that we take it slow and maintain balance. If we don't, we could find ourselves feeling burnt out and exhausted. Continue to engage in activities that provide a sense of enjoyment and achievement. This can include self-care, practising mindfulness, connecting with friends and family or carrying out your favourite hobbies.
3. Concentrate on achievable actions
Channelling overwhelming feelings into something positive can help alleviate feelings of anxiety surrounding climate change. For example, you could join a climate action activist group and connect with other individuals you feel comfortable sharing your feelings and concerns with. Taking part in a broader community's climate action can give comfort in knowing that you're not acting alone whilst also providing a sense of purpose and empowerment.
4. Support sustainable practices
By supporting businesses and initiatives that prioritise sustainability you can feel assured in knowing you are doing your bit to help the planet. This may include taking personal steps such as avoiding fast fashion, limiting meat consumption or getting outside in nature.
5. Consider therapy to help with climate anxiety
If your anxiety around climate change is becoming unmanageable, working with a counsellor can help process your stress and ongoing concerns. Therapy can help you develop coping skills to manage emotional distress and to find a balance.
Counselling Directory member and integrative counsellor Amy Scott talks about how to find a climate anxiety or eco-grief counsellor in her article, Finding a counsellor for eco-anxiety and climate grief. Her advice is to broaden your search, look into blogs and social media, and look to find a good recommendation. She discusses the effects of burnout caused by climate anxiety and highlights the importance of seeking support in order to lessen feelings of hopelessness and isolation.
Remember, it's OK to feel overwhelmed about the climate crisis. By taking action and connecting with others, you can channel those feelings into positive change. Talking through how climate anxiety affects your life with a counsellor can help you deal with these emotions and encourage coping skills.