In a world facing environmental challenges unprecedented in human history, it is no surprise that environmental anxiety, a pervasive anxiety about the current and future state of the planet, is an increasingly prevalent mental health issue. .
When people witness the devastating effects of climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. I happen to live in Phoenix, Arizona, which has become a “heat apocalypse” city with dwindling water supplies, so I’m somewhat involved in this issue.
But even among the bleak and bleak predictions, there is hope. As a therapist and professor of clinical social work, I’ve seen firsthand how paralyzing environmental anxiety can be, so I’m dedicated to finding solutions. Here are some evidence-based tips to address the issue of climate change.
What is environmental anxiety?
Environmental anxiety is a broad term that includes not only fear of environmental issues such as pollution and toxic waste disposal, but also climate-specific fears such as increased extreme weather events and rising sea levels.
Common symptoms of environmental anxiety include worrying about future generations, having trouble sleeping or concentrating, feeling irritable, and feeling helpless. These feelings can range from mild, temporary concerns to deep despair, panic attacks, and compulsive behaviors.
Does it look like you or someone you know? There are a number of tools that can help people deal with these emotions, known by the acronym UPSTREAM.
understanding and self-compassion
Be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone in feeling this way.
Being interested in the world you live in doesn’t make you a “crazy” alarmist. In fact, more and more people around the world feel the same way, with a recent poll showing that two-thirds of Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned about climate change.
It is natural for people to become anxious when their basic needs, such as safety and shelter, are threatened. Blaming yourself for these very valid feelings will only make you feel worse, so give yourself some grace.
be part of the solution
It can be difficult to feel empowered when environmental damage is negatively impacting mental health, but the escalating global crisis still requires an urgent response. Instead of burying your head in the sand, use that mental discomfort as a catalyst for action.
Individual efforts to reduce your carbon footprint are important. Research shows that participating in large-scale exercise can not only reduce anxiety, but can even have a big impact on exercise. Volunteer your unique passions, talents, and skills to advocate for systemic change that benefits the planet and humanity.
If you feel anxious, use that energy as fuel for your fight. Harnessing environmental anxiety in this way can reduce feelings of helplessness.
The weight of the climate crisis is heavy enough as it is. Don’t let your brain make you feel even worse.
When we think about climate change, being realistic puts us in a psychological Goldilocks zone of “just right.” Don’t numb your emotional wounds. But don’t get too catastrophic.
As a therapist, I often help clients identify and reframe unhelpful thought patterns. For example, while it is true that there are many environmental issues that need to be addressed, there is also good news, so don’t discount it. Recognize and celebrate your wins, both big and small.
Trauma: Processing it so it can be treated
The climate crisis is conceptualized as a collective trauma, with many people grappling with environmental grief from climate impacts that have already occurred. Processing past trauma from events such as weather disasters is an important step in increasing your ability to cope with new experiences.
Even people who have not yet directly experienced significant climate impacts may exhibit signs of pre-traumatic stress, a clinical term referring to the distress experienced in anticipation of high-stress situations. A qualified mental health professional can help you process these feelings.
It’s no secret that having a strong social support network is an important component of happiness. Surrounding yourself with caring, like-minded friends is also key to your continued efforts to do your part to make a difference.
Consider joining or starting a Climate Cafe or similar group to talk about climate concerns. Join us for the 10 Steps of Climate Grief Conference. Get involved with local environmental groups. Or, if you need an ear, just call a friend.
Get outdoors and enjoy nature.
Take a quiet walk in the forest and observe the nature around you. This is a Japanese relaxation method known as forest bathing. Spend time gardening. Exercise outdoors or spend time outside where you can relax and recuperate.
acts of self-care
Self-care is paramount to managing the mental strain of environmental anxiety.
Engaging in self-care habits like getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and having fun can help maintain a sense of balance in the face of overwhelming environmental challenges.
Remember what you are taught on the plane? You should always put on your own oxygen mask before helping other passengers. Similarly, when we come from a healthy place, we are better equipped to deal with the stress of environmental anxiety and make a difference in this area.
Environmental grief is past-focused and environmental anxiety is future-oriented, so reconnecting to the present moment is a powerful way to counter both.
By cultivating mindfulness (non-judgmental awareness of the present moment), people can become more attuned to their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations in response to environmental anxiety triggers. This increased self-awareness allows people to recognize their worries instead of letting them consume them.
Mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing can have a calming and grounding effect, reducing stress and helping you feel less helpless. Additionally, mindfulness can foster a deeper connection with nature and appreciation for the present moment, counteracting feelings of hopelessness associated with the uncertainty of the future environment.
In the face of environmental insecurity, these strategies can build resilience and remind everyone of their power to shape a more sustainable and hopeful future.