Pollution, wildfires, rising sea levels, thinning ice sheets. We often hear how humans are damaging the planet, but for some people climate change is an overwhelming worry that has a big impact on their mental health
When you think of the effects of climate change, your first thought might be the melting polar ice caps, or the increase of plastic waste in the ocean. But, it’s not necessarily the global disasters that are causing a deepening sense of dread among Brits. We’ve got our own environmental problems right on our doorstep.
The UK is known for its varied climate, but gone are the days when we’d witness weather extremes once in a blue moon. We’re now regularly seeing warm winters, beastly cold springs, and scorching hot summers.
A report by the Met Office confirms that the UK’s 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2002. But it’s not just heatwaves – floods are becoming frequent, too. It’s these extreme weather events that create a sense of trauma, leaving a lasting impact on people’s wellbeing. In fact, for many, climate change is an overwhelming subject.
What toll does it take on our mental health?
The toll of climate change on our wellbeing is far-reaching, and includes stress, depression, and anxiety. In a recent survey for the Recycling Partnership, 96% of respondents were worried about climate change to some degree, with one in four people stating that it was their biggest fear.
Hypnotherapist Andrea Szentgyorgyi says: “The concern can escalate as you experience climate change in your daily life. You worry about record temperatures. You feel anxious when you buy anything packed in plastic. You might lose sleep because of your concerns about the future of our planet. Your feelings of it being out of your control can cause panic. Some people are deeply affected by feelings of grief, helplessness, frustration, stress, and even violence and aggression, due to their inability to make a difference.”
With the growing awareness of our environment, and the impact we are having on the world around us, more and more people are becoming concerned with our future on Earth.
Is it necessary to panic?
With evidence of weather extremes, as well as the influence of people such as Greta Thunberg and the rise of Extinction Rebellion, there’s been a dramatic change in the level of public interest in environmental issues. People are demanding action, and politicians have started to take notice.
The UK government has committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – but is this soon enough? There’s a growing consensus that the next 18 months will be critical in dealing with the global crisis. A recent poll by Greener UK and the Climate Coalition found that almost 70% of the British public would like to see urgent political action to address climate change.
But, some feel that this method of reporting, and talking, about climate change is unhelpful and unnecessary. Yes, we need to take action, but it’s the ‘scaremongering’ that leads to (or worsens) eco-anxiety. Instead of empowering people to take action and positively make changes, the majority of people feel scared, insignificant, or as if their efforts won’t have any impact.
What can be done to reduce anxiety?
It’s very much in our power to protect what’s left, and to make a difference
When we’re worried, or feeling overwhelmed, it can seem natural to avoid the source of our anxiety. So, in the case of eco-anxiety, it can be tempting to switch off. However, experts say it’s important to confront the issue of climate change directly, and stay informed about environmental issues.
There’s currently no specific treatment for climate anxiety, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth seeking professional help. Successful treatments for anxiety include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and hypnotherapy. Each can teach you coping mechanisms to manage your anxiety.
“A therapist can help you to manage your anxiety, learn to relax, and boost your self-confidence,” Andrea says. “Feeling strong and empowered makes you confident, and will encourage others to listen to what you have to say. And so you can feel more in control and influential about your role in saving our planet.”
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that, while we can’t fight nature, we can work with it. There’s a huge amount we can still do, and it’s very much in our power to protect what’s left, and to make a meaningful difference.
What can I do?
- Calculate your carbon footprint at footprint.wwf.org.uk for ideas on how to improve your daily habits.
- Change your diet. It’s well-documented that reducing meat consumption can make a tangible difference to the environment.
- Stay informed – especially if you live in an area where there’s a high possibility of flooding, wildfires, or extreme weather.
- Connect with others who have an interest in the environment. Visit rebellion.earth to join Extinction Rebellion and find out more about events in your local area.
- Share your knowledge. Educating others to encourage change is an important part of being a responsible citizen of the world.
- Above all, remain positive. Positive change requires a positive mindset.
Read our Eco Pledge to see how we're protecting our planet.