Climate anxiety is a condition best described as a constant fear that an individual can experience when thinking about the state of the environment and the imminent threat that is climate change. In a recent study performed in the United States, it was found that climate anxiety - or eco-anxiety as it is also often called - affects young people for the most part, especially students. Approximately 70% of students from some universities found during the study described themselves as suffering from climate anxiety.
Although this is not a medical diagnosis that can be properly treated by a doctor, this condition still causes concern and should be treated accordingly. Because the state of our planet is in decline, and the necessary effort and work are not collectively put into preventing the collapse of our ecosystem, many individuals continue to have persisting thoughts that can lead to severe panic attacks. And although being responsible and eco-aware is a great step in helping the planet and therefore ourselves, doing things like reducing your own carbon footprint is not always enough when it comes to easing climate anxiety. That is why, for your own mental well-being, here are some things you can do to treat the overwhelming sense of panic:
Turn off the news when it feels overwhelming.
These days, it appears that news stations and publications read online are exclusively delivering negative news. The problem with bad news is that, although it provides individuals with the benefit of staying informed and understanding where the problem lies, it can also give people a sense of dread and pessimism. Think of all the times when you have opened your social media apps or turned on the TV and heard all about the rapidly growing fires, the rises in temperature, the endangered animals, and so on. It is hard not to let this news get to you and make you feel like any effort civilization does to stop climate change is useless. And that is why sometimes it is better to take breaks from mass media whenever it gets overwhelming. This is not to say that you should not read on environmental issues anymore or that you should turn a blind eye to all that is happening in the world right now. But while it is crucial to stay informed and active, it is also important to know when to take a break from looking at horrific headlines.
Read on positive changes.
Another helpful thing you can do to avoid feeling powerless is to swap the bad news for good news from time to time. As hard as it can be to believe, there are positive changes happening in our ecosystem due to the hard work of activists and the research of scientists. There are websites that focus solely on delivering good news about climate change and mentioning all the progress that is made in fighting this crisis. Reading about the increased CO2 levels that help plant growth or about the steps taken to end urban oil drilling can help you see that not every effort is pointless and that many of the damages can be reversible.
Set boundaries with people who don't share your views.
A frustrating thing which many people who suffer from climate anxiety have to deal with is those who refuse to acknowledge that climate change is a real threat. It is hard to see other people not care about their own carbon emissions or about any climate news when you struggle so much to make a difference. So, if you have people in your life who are either in complete denial about the state of the planet or misinformed on the situation and who therefore are part of the problem, then the best thing you can do is to avoid as best as possible any discussion with them on the subject of climate change.
Involve in like-minded communities.
Instead of continuing to have conversations with people who do not experience the same concern as you are, you can try finding others who view the problem in the same way that you do. Discussing environmental issues with someone who knows what it's like to feel climate anxiety can help you relieve some of it by letting it all out and by knowing that you are in a community that is just as willing to take action as you are.
Connect with nature.
Seeing all the ways in which nature keeps on giving and on fighting the human-induced changes can be a stress reliever in itself. Going out in nature is a form of relaxation and self-care, and it can help you reconnect with both yourself and the cause for which you are fighting, which is preserving the beauties that our planet is offering. So find some time in your busy schedule to take a walk around a park or to get out of town to camp and explore. Chances are you will feel much more hopeful after an outing like that.
Take some of the pressure off yourself.
Veganism, recycling, and reducing your usage of energy or water are all great steps in fighting climate change. It can make you feel like you are contributing to solving the problem and like your effort matters, which it does. But it can also put a lot of pressure on you to change many aspects of your life to make up for the damage that has already been done. Even while individual efforts are essential, mass efforts are even more critical in combating climate change. Companies, industries, and many other parties are mainly to blame for pollution and high carbon emissions, which is why it is up to the government to prioritize the health of the earth over the state of the economy. A thing you can do as a single individual that is more important than reducing your carbon footprint is to put pressure on large corporations and governments to limit emissions and to function in ways that are less harmful to the environment. Activism is a great first step in taking the blame off of yourself and pointing it in the right direction.
To sum up, dealing with climate anxiety is common and can prove to be very difficult to manage, but by having the right attitude and taking the right actions, you can find ways to live with it. The most important thing to remember is that you are trying your best, doing whatever you can and that any action you take makes a difference.
Sources: Judy Wu, Gaelen Snell, Hasina Samji (2020). Climate anxiety in young people: a call to action. The Lancet, volume 4, issue 10.