Understanding and Managing Climate Anxiety: A Comprehensive Guide

Explore the profound impact of climate change on mental health. rom scorching heatwaves to species in peril, it’s overwhelming. This guide sheds light on climate anxiety, offering strategies to manage stress and make a positive impact. Find solace and support with mental health professionals at Grow Therapy.

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on May 13, 2024

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Climate change is a phenomenon that’s left no corner of the world untouched. From rising temperatures and increasingly extreme weather events to long-term changes in species diversity and ocean acidification, these effects impact many cities and countries. Watching the news and not feeling overwhelmed is difficult.

This emotional distress, commonly called ‘climate anxiety,’ is a growing concern that can harm our mental and physical health. It’s expected that you worry about your future and the future of our planet. Or maybe you’re frustrated that you want to help out in some way but don’t know how. If you feel this way, you aren’t alone. 

Fortunately, there are many effective ways to manage these anxieties. This comprehensive guide discusses the symptoms of climate anxiety and provides helpful strategies to manage stress and contribute positively to environmental sustainability.

What is Climate Anxiety?

Climate anxiety refers to the emotional distress and anxiety experienced by individuals due to the growing concern and awareness about the impacts of the climate crisis. It is a genuine and valid response to the alarming threat that the change poses to our planet, our near future, and future generations. Unlike grief or trauma caused by a direct impact on people, climate anxiety is produced from anticipating future harm that has yet to occur.

You may have heard of eco-anxiety and wondered how it differs from climate anxiety. Eco-anxiety is a broader term encompassing the fear and distress caused by climate change and other environmental issues such as pollution, habitat destruction, and biodiversity loss. It’s focused more on the overall ecological crisis of our planet and the existential threat rather than just the effects of climate change.

In contrast, climate anxiety is typically more specifically directed at global warming, its impacts on human life, and how it’ll affect future generations. It can be compounded by climate change-related media reinforcing the notion that we are facing an impending climate crisis.

Why Should We Care About Climate Anxiety?

Climate anxiety is a relatively new phenomenon that has only recently been recognized in mental health circles and public health. Still, its effects are already being felt widely by individuals across the globe. It’s important to acknowledge that all the feelings about climate change aren’t a sign of weakness or symptoms of mental health disorders but a natural reaction to the magnitude of our challenges.

Studies have found constant worry about climate change can lead to stress, depression, and other psychological disturbances. It can also cause people to feel helpless and unable to cope with the enormity of the challenge posed by climate change. According to an American Psychiatric Association (APA) poll, 67% of American respondents are concerned about the impact of climate change on the planet.

In comparison, 73% agree climate change is probably or definitely affecting mental health. Moreover, the Lancet Planetary Health journal reports a high correlation between climate anxiety and feelings of betrayal against the government’s inadequate response to the problem.

Symptoms and Impact of Climate Anxiety

Climate anxiety can affect our physical and mental well-being, causing many distressing symptoms. Physically, the effects of climate anxiety may manifest as increased an heart rate, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and even panic attacks that make you feel caught in the middle of heat waves without shade. You may lose your appetite, feel fatigued, or struggle to get a good night’s sleep as your mind races with worries about the future.

The overwhelming stress and uncertainty about the state of our planet can leave you feeling on edge, like a thermometer about to burst. Irritability may become your constant companion, turning even the smallest frustrations into volcanic eruptions. Concentration becomes challenging and a sense of hopelessness may seep in like an invasive weed choking out any glimmers of optimism.

In addition, many people have not considered that intense temperature changes can also cause physical and neurological changes in our bodies. For example, increased temperatures can alter the brain’s chemical composition, decreasing serotonin levels and increasing cortisol. Correlation studies have acknowledged that there have been increases in psychiatric emergency hospital visits and children and adolescents’ cognitive development impairment due to increased environmental temperature.

Climate anxiety can feel like a storm raging inside you. Still, you must understand you’re not alone in weathering this storm. Acknowledging the physical and psychological impacts is the first step towards seeking support and implementing coping strategies to navigate these turbulent waters. Remember, your feelings are valid, and ways exist to manage and alleviate the burden of climate anxiety.

Who’s Most Prone to Climate Anxiety?

Certain groups of individuals tend to be more at risk of developing climate anxiety, given their unique circumstances and experiences. Those who are highly emotional, have poor coping skills, easily obsess about uncertainties, and suffer from mental illness, are more likely to experience climate anxiety. This includes young adults, who may feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead, and those who have lost loved ones to natural disasters or extreme weather events.

First responders, who courageously face the aftermath of climate-related disasters, are particularly vulnerable to climate anxiety. They witness the devastation firsthand. From encountering displaced communities, destroyed homes, and the emotional toll of loss and trauma, they endure direct exposure to the immediate impacts of the climate crisis. These experiences can lead to heightened anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Climate scientists dedicate their lives to understanding and researching the effects of climate change. They grapple with the weight of knowledge, witnessing a warming world’s stark realities and projections. The constant exposure to climate change data, the constant worry about the climate crisis, and the urgent need for action can significantly contribute to their susceptibility to climate anxiety.

Climate activists who tirelessly advocate for climate action often find themselves in the eye of the storm, navigating the complexities of political, social, and economic challenges. They carry the burden of rallying for change, combating skepticism, and working tirelessly to raise awareness. Their unwavering commitment and deep involvement in climate-related issues make them more prone to experiencing climate anxiety.

Further, individuals who are already deeply concerned about environmental issues and those directly affected by climate change are particularly susceptible to climate anxiety. Their heightened awareness of climate issues, combined with personal experiences of witnessing the impacts of climate change, can intensify their feelings about climate change. These individuals often feel a profound sense of urgent responses to climate change.

Coping With Climate Anxiety

Coping with climate anxiety is of paramount importance to safeguarding your overall well-being. It allows you to lower your stress levels, reclaim a sense of control, and maintain your ability to function effectively in your daily life. By implementing effective coping strategies, you can minimize climate anxiety’s physical and mental symptoms, preventing them from consuming your every thought and action.

The Goal of Coping With Climate Anxiety

The goal of coping with climate anxiety is to allow you to avoid the overwhelming paralysis accompanying feelings of helplessness and despair. By developing coping mechanisms, you equip yourself with the tools to manage and navigate the emotional challenges of climate anxiety without succumbing to burnout or fatigue.

Effective coping strategies enable you to continue finding joy and fulfillment in your everyday life. Although we should all contribute to helping the environment, this sense of responsibility must be balanced with the experiences, passions, and hobbies that bring us happiness. By implementing coping techniques, you can balance actively engaging with climate action and enjoying the simple pleasures that make life worth living.

Ultimately, coping with climate anxiety fosters a sense of hope and agency. It empowers you to stay engaged in climate action, whether through individual efforts or collective initiatives, knowing that your contributions matter and can make a difference. Coping with climate anxiety isn’t about turning a blind eye to the challenges but finding the inner strength and resilience to face them head-on.

Coping Techniques With Climate Anxiety

If you don’t know how to handle all the negative emotions of climate anxiety, here are some coping techniques that might help:

Confronting the Reality of Climate Change

One effective coping technique for climate anxiety is confronting the rapidly changing climate head-on. Be realistic about what you can control or directly influence. While the challenges posed by climate change may seem daunting, acknowledging the limitations of individual action can help you channel your energy and anger.

Focus on What You Can Do

Instead of constantly being bombarded by instant responses to climate change news, redirect your attention towards actionable steps that you can take to make a positive impact. Recognize that you aren’t a negative person but simply someone operating within the brain’s natural negativity bias. By consciously shifting your focus towards solutions, you can overcome this bias and channel your energy into meaningful actions. It’s like adjusting the lens of your perspective, allowing you to see the path forward amidst the challenges.

Practice Mindfulness 

Engage in mindfulness practices to keep your goals and aspirations at the forefront of your mind. Maintain a journal to document your efforts to help the planet and remind yourself of the progress you have already achieved. This practice reinforces a sense of purpose and reminds you that you actively contribute to positive change. It’s like nurturing a seed of determination, tending to it with mindful care to watch it grow into a flourishing tree of environmental stewardship.

Limit Social Media and News Exposure

While staying informed is crucial, excessive exposure to distressing news and social media can exacerbate anxiety about climate change. Set boundaries by limiting your screen time and seeking reliable sources of information. Focus on constructive and actionable content that inspires and empowers you. It’s like creating a shield against the onslaught of negativity, allowing you to stay informed without being overwhelmed by the constant barrage of alarming headlines.

Practice Self-Love, Self-Compassion, and Self-Care

Amid the challenges of climate change, it’s essential to prioritize self-love, self-compassion, and self-care. Celebrate every effort you make towards helping various causes, no matter how small. Remember to take time for yourself, engage in activities that bring you joy, and prioritize rest and exercise to replenish your energy. It’s like tending to your own well-being as you would care for a fragile ecosystem, nurturing resilience, and finding balance in the face of adversity.

Support Others Who Have Climate Anxiety

Activism can be a powerful tool for people struggling with climate anxiety. Gather with like-minded individuals and transform your thoughts into collective climate change solutions within your community. Join forces with family, friends, and local non-profit organizations to brainstorm and implement initiatives that address climate change.

Many people post videos about how they help the planet in their daily lives, such as cutting down on food waste and opting for public transportation to reduce their carbon emissions. These are all ways that you can use to contribute to the cause while alleviating your anxiety and fostering a sense of empowerment. It’s like building a community of resilience, united in purpose and determined to create positive change.

Talk To Someone About How You Feel

Recognize the importance of seeking support when needed. If climate anxiety becomes overwhelming, consider talking to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professionals about your feelings of climate anxiety. They can provide guidance, validation, and coping strategies tailored to your needs. Know that you don’t have to face climate anxiety alone. Support is available to support you in navigating the challenges with resilience and strength.

Final Thoughts

In this rapidly changing world, the impacts of climate change aren’t only physical, but also deeply psychological. Climate anxiety is very real, and it’s affecting our well-being. It’s not just about a fear of the future but a complex emotional response to a global problem that seems larger than any individual.

If at any time you feel helpless or hopeless about the situation, you don’t have to suffer alone. Try booking an appointment with a therapist to share your thoughts, worries, and feelings. At Grow Therapy, we have many mental health professionals who can provide personalized support to help you navigate these complex emotions about climate change. They understand the unique challenges of climate anxiety and can provide you with the tools and strategies to cope effectively. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor who works with adults experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, loss and grief, identity and self-concept difficulties, relationship problems, life-transition difficulties, and traumatic memories.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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