Many of us feel overwhelmed by the existential challenges faced by being an inhabitant of the planet that we all live on. Climate change linked to greenhouse gas emissions has created record high temperatures, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and extreme versions of storms, droughts and wildfires around the globe. The long list of wildlife species and land lost to human endeavour continues to grow month on month, year on year.
In direct correlation to these phenomena, in the UK and the US in particular, psychologists have reported a rise in people suffering from climate change anxiety or eco-anxiety, according to the Climate Psychology Alliance. Last year, public health journal The Lancet released a report that listed the ways in which climate change affects mental health, saying “ the rise of extreme temperatures exacerbates anxiety and depression.... and freakish weather events will trigger post-traumatic stress disorder.” And a 2018 study published in Nature: The International Journal of Science revealed that feeling grief associated with the loss of species and ecosystems, in addition to fears about what the future might bring, means that "ecological grief" is a real and valid response to loss — and it “may become more common as climate impacts worsen,” according to the study’s authors.
It is therefore not surprising that so many people feel paralysed by fear of what’s happening to the planet, and what is still in store. And that paralysing effect is a problem in and of itself, leaving us stuck in a depressive spiral that helps no one. So how can one get through the days? How can we best combat our own climate fears?
Tips for dealing with climate anxiety
Step away from social media or cull your feeds - It seems that stepping away from social media can be a helpful tool for combating anxiety of all kinds, and eco anxiety is no different. And when you are using social media, attempt to follow fewer feeds that are solely focused on the doom and gloom, and follow more that provide resources, motivation, and encouragement, or those that zoom in on the amazing resilience of nature itself - a good reminder of what we’re fighting for.
Get into nature and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing - This can be hard for those who are based in urban centres, but time spent in nature is a known and proven antidepressant, and exercising (even just walking) outdoors can improve self-esteem and reduce feelings of depression, anger, and tension, according to a review of research published in the journal Extreme Physiology & Medicine in 2013.
Don’t shut down. You’re not helping anyone that way! And you matter! It is easy to go the nihilistic route and say that nothing a single human does can change the course of history. However, that’s a hard way to go through life.
Adopt a plant-based diet. It's good for the environment and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions. If you don’t want to go completely veggie, aim for several meals a week with no meat.
Walk or cycle where possible. Instead of driving, choose the option that cuts down on your carbon emissions.
Turn your anxiety into action. This is arguably the most important point. There are so many ways to take action today. Our voice matters. Your actions matter because other people may see what you’re doing. And if you’ve got any sort of privilege, you need to use it! Call your representatives, sign petitions, go protest, lobby for more green spaces in your city, organise a beach clean, write to your MP and the local council about the recycling options in your town. The list goes on and on. Think globally, and act locally.
Climate change, unfortunately, is a reality for Planet Earth. Many of us are very, extremely aware of it, and climate anxiety is a by-product of that awareness. But the more people that work to channel their feelings into action, the better. Giving up just isn’t an option.
What did I miss? How are you dealing with your climate anxiety? Let me know in the comments!