What is Climate Anxiety?
Climate anxiety, or eco-anxiety, is distress related to worries about the effects of climate change. It is not a mental illness. Rather, it is anxiety rooted in uncertainty about the future and alerting us to the dangers of a changing climate. The American Psychiatric Association describes it as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”.
Anxiety around environmental issues may stem from the awareness of a rising risk of extreme weather events, losses of livelihood or housing, fears for future generations, and feelings of helplessness. They usually feel burdened alone and face an issue that cannot be improved.
Several studies have highlighted how widespread eco-anxiety has become globally. Nearly2/3 of 10,000 16-25 year-olds in 10 countries were "very or extremely worried" about climate change in a study published in The Lancet in September, while 84% were at least moderately worried.
However, eco-anxiety is currently not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), meaning that doctors do not officially consider it a diagnosable condition.
Effects of climate anxiety
Climate anxiety is being felt much more powerfully among the young by first responders to climate-related natural disasters and climate scientists and activists, who are exposed to information about the threat more than most and may need psychological support. Climate anxiety can lead to symptoms such as panic attacks, loss of appetite, irritability, weakness and sleeplessness. However, given the increasing evidence about the impact of climate change on health, psychological professionals might ask if their patients feel too much anxiety or whether they feel too little.
A Sept. 27 report from the Yale Program for Climate Communication found that a record 70% of Americans are now very or somewhat worried about climate change, with a significant increase after a summer in which the U.S. faced an onslaught of heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes.
Handling climate anxiety
1. Talk to someone!
Sometimes expressing your thoughts and feelings to others who share the same sentiment might be something you'll need. Climate anxiety is not something you're going through alone.
2. Focus on what you can control.
It is a good reminder to focus on what you can control, as a sole individual, organization, or government cannot wholly solve climate change. Start with something small that you can control yourself, like throwing your plastic bottle into a recycling bin, or bringing your bag instead of using a plastic bag. Individual action leads to collective action! It can be something bigger, like setting up a green committee in your school, college, or workplace. Whatever it is, try not to pressure yourself too much, and remember that you are not carrying the burden alone.
3. Take time out from climate news.
Following climate accounts on social media or sharing climate pages with your friends will help you stay informed with updated climate information. However, that doesn't mean you must keep an eye on climate news 24/7. Take a break from these types of information if you feel the negative impact they have on you. You don't have to be plugged in all the time.
4. SELF CARE!!!!
Take a break when stressed, and focus on your mental health and self-care! Reading a novel, watching a movie, decluttering your room, skincare, or going for a walk can all be good things. Constantly thinking and talking about climate change can be exhausting and emotionally taxing, so it's advised to take some time off now and then to recharge.