climate change

Embracing Earth Day – Understanding Climate Anxiety

Earth Day is a poignant reminder of our planet’s beauty and wonder, as well as the wildlife, diversity, and communities that make it great. But it’s also an urgent reminder of the need to safeguard it. However, amidst the celebrations, we must also acknowledge the profound challenges climate change poses to our mental well-being.  

So, how is the climate emergency intricately related to mental health, and what strategies can you use to navigate these challenges with resilience and hope? 

What is Climate Anxiety? 

While the environmental impact of climate change is well documented and spoken about regularly, its impact on our mental health needs to be addressed too. Research has found that seven out of ten young people are worried about climate change and its effects. 

Climate anxiety is not just a niggling worry about our planet. It’s a deep emotional response triggered by the looming threat of climate change. It creates a persistent fear for our environment and wildlife, as well as a feeling of panic about the future. 

People experiencing climate anxiety may feel overwhelmed, swinging between feelings of helplessness and despair. Many people have a gut feeling or a profound unease that impacts how they think and act. 

Remember, like all mental health conditions, climate anxiety isn’t a uniform experience.  

Different people may experience it differently, influenced by factors such as personal background, experiences, and access to resources. Some may feel overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, while others may feel motivated to take action. Recognising this diversity of experiences is crucial for creating inclusive spaces where individuals feel understood and supported. 

Signs of Climate Anxiety 

While the symptoms may vary from person to person, common signs of climate anxiety include: 

  • Persistent worry or preoccupation with climate-related issues 
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness about the future 
  • Increased stress or anxiety in response to environmental news or events 
  • Difficulty concentrating or sleeping due to climate-related concerns 
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or fatigue related to climate anxiety 

Beyond anxiety, climate change can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, such as depression and PTSD, and contribute to feelings of grief, anger, and eco-fatigue.  

It can also increase social tensions and disparities, disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities.  

Why Does Climate Change Impact Mental Health? 

Climate change can really weigh on our mental health in a few ways.  

Firstly, there’s a feeling called ‘eco-grief’. This is when we feel emotionally distraught about losing parts of nature, such as animals, landscapes, and even our traditional ways of life.  

Additionally, the constant barrage of alarming news and images related to climate change fuels feelings of anxiety, stress, and despair.  

This looming threat constantly makes us feel less safe and stable. This can lead to a range of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Climate change can also worsen existing social problems, hitting some groups harder than others. For example, people who are already struggling because of poverty or discrimination can feel the effects of climate change even more. Think about indigenous communities being forced to move because of rising sea levels or farmers losing their crops because of extreme weather.  

How to Talk About Climate Anxiety 

Discussions about climate change in the workplace and our communities can evoke emotions, from fear and anger to apathy and denial. 

As leaders and advocates for mental health, it’s essential to create a safe and supportive space where the people around us feel comfortable expressing their concerns about climate anxiety. 

Here are some strategies for initiating these conversations: 

  • Encourage open conversations:  

Encourage team members, colleagues, and friends to share their thoughts and feelings about climate change in a non-judgmental environment. Create opportunities for group discussions, workshops, or seminars where individuals can express their concerns and seek support. 

  • Provide education and resources:  

Offer access to reputable sources of information on climate science, adaptation strategies, and mental health support services. Provide training or workshops on stress management, resilience building, and coping strategies for climate-related distress. 

  • Lead by example:  

Demonstrate your commitment to addressing climate change and prioritising mental health in the workplace and your personal life. Share your experiences with climate anxiety and the strategies you’ve found helpful for managing stress and maintaining well-being. 

By promoting open discussion and providing support, we can create a culture of resilience and collective action in the face of climate-related challenges. 

How to Relieve Climate Anxiety 

While climate anxiety may feel overwhelming, there are steps we can take to alleviate its burden and breed a sense of empowerment: 

  • Practice self-care:  

Engage in activities promoting physical and emotional well-being, such as meditation, yoga, exercise, and leisure time in nature. Take breaks from consuming news or social media content about climate change and prioritise activities that bring joy and relaxation. 

  • Take meaningful action:  

Channel your anxiety into positive action by engaging in environmental advocacy, supporting sustainable initiatives, and reducing your carbon footprint. Participate in community clean-up events, volunteer with local conservation organisations, or advocate for policies that address climate change at the local, national, and global levels. 

  • Connect with others:  

Seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals who can provide guidance and understanding. Join support groups or online communities where individuals can share their experiences and learn from others navigating similar challenges. We can find strength and solidarity in the community by connecting with others. 

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. By boosting resilience, cultivating community, and embracing hope, we can confront the challenges of climate change with courage and determination. 

As we celebrate Earth Day and reflect on our relationship with the planet, let us not forget the profound impact of climate change on our mental health. Climate anxiety is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness with the environment and the urgent need to protect our planet and well-being.  

Let’s embrace the challenge of building a more sustainable and resilient world where our planet and mental health thrive.  

Happy Earth Day!