Check the r/Climate subreddit and you’ll find dozens of articles and news about the climate and related activism that are added every day. In fact, looking through a lot of environment-related subreddits you’ll find millions of people who are worried about the environment.
Conservation and environmental awareness has been increasing for decades and according to the ONS, around three in four adults feel (very or somewhat) worried about climate change.
With the climate becoming a more important issue for the general public, psychologists are researching what has come to be known as “eco-anxiety” or “climate-anxiety”. The impact of climate change on mental health has been recognised by the American Psychology Association (APA) and various studies around the world.
You may have even heard activist Greta Thunberg talk about dealing with climate anxiety lately.
So we’ve asked health and wellbeing expert Emily to very kindly give us a breakdown of what climate anxiety is, why it can happen, and some methods you can use if you’re finding yourself feeling stressed about the environment.
What is Climate Anxiety?
The American Psychological Association has defined climate anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”.
Climate anxiety is essentially a sense of fear, worry, or tension linked to
climate change. These emotions can become overwhelming and cause us
to feel a real sense of loss of hope and control, making us question if and
how things can possibly get better.
These emotions, although linked to a worry about the future and climate
change, can also be triggered by the byproduct of this concern which
includes the worry and concern for our loved ones and humanity itself.
Climate anxiety is often accompanied by feelings of grief, anger, guilt,
and shame, which in turn can affect your mood, behavior, and your way
What are the signs of climate anxiety?
Anxiety can cause a range of physical and mental symptoms. Mental symptoms include feeling uneasy, tense, anger, panic, agitated, hypervigilant, and hopelessness. Physical symptoms include having poor quality sleep, dizziness, headaches, achiness, and loss of appetite.
What Research Says About Eco-Anxiety
Professional discussion around eco-anxiety only began around 2007, as the field of climate psychology became popular. At present there isn’t a lot of research or agreed-upon definitions about eco-anxiety.
Anxiety itself is a complex condition, and not all definitions of eco-anxiety are alike. For example, other related terms to eco-anxiety such as climate trauma and solastalgia (depression caused by environmental change) refer to different variations of anxiety.
What is generally understood by scholars is that the environmental issues and the climate crisis, causes worry and uncertainty, which are classic ingredients in anxiety.
For further reading: this article by Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science has a brilliant breakdown of the scholarly research into eco anxiety.
Is Eco-Anxiety a Mental illness?
Currently, eco-anxiety isn’t a diagnosable illness and isn’t recognised as a medical condition. Any physical or mental symptoms are likely to be diagnosed under the branch of anxiety.
How To Treat Climate Anxiety
Climate anxiety can be managed like you would with general anxiety: by identifying and managing triggers, keeping physically active, learning relaxation techniques, and talking about feelings to a friend, family member, health professional or counsellor.
Emily of EmPower Mindful Health has provided me with some great self-help methods to cope with feeling anxious about the environment. She is a Mental Health First Aider and has a postgraduate degree in Attachment, Trauma and Mental Health from the University of Chester.
Grounding is an effective way to calm anxiety during heightened unease. It involves identifying objects around you to help your brain recognize where you are and create a sense of comfort.
Listening to guided meditation whilst your following these might help you feel more relaxed.
Practise Letting Go
Releasing the feeling of anxiety surrendering this present moment is easier said than done, but with practice you too can let go of these negative
emotions and allow your mind to shit to a calm and safe state.
Try to write down your thoughts around climate change that has
been prominent in your mind this week. Ask yourself has it affected your
personal morale? Has it affected your hope or prospects for your future?
How present have you been with yourself and those around you?
It is important that we acknowledge and recognise the unhelpful and unhealthy emotions rooted in our climate anxiety so we can progress to focus our energy on shifting our mindset to be more positive and present.
Create a Circle of Control
The “Circles of Control” method is a way to reduce stress and anxiety by focusing on what is within our control, and accept and release what is not. Find balance, focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t.
On a piece of paper draw two circles, one small circle in the centre of your page and one large around this circle.
In the inner circle write “things I can control” and the outer circle “things I can’t control”.
The circle of control is an effective tool for anxiety as it encourages people to focus on the things they can control and seek serenity in the things they cannot.
It allows you to focus your energy on proactive solutions.
Take a moment and write anything and everything that has become overwhelming for your mind. This can be sentences or just words. Allow all of your consuming emotions to be released onto the page
What To Do If You Think You Have Anxiety
If you think you have anxiety, or your mental health is suffering as a result of worrying about the environment, there are several steps you can take to get help. Talk to your doctor or mental health provider and make an appointment if necessary. Learn about your disorder and stick to any treatment plan prescribed.
Take action by learning what helps to ease with anxiety, fear, and panic. You can get free talking therapy with the NHS, or if you’d like to help someone else you can find lots of resources on mind.org.uk.