With the constant flow of news and information in today’s media, it’s tough to go a day without hearing about something worrisome about the environment. Every few days we hear about worsening floods, droughts, shrinking wildlife habitats, and super storms. After all you’ve seen, you might wonder how life will change in the next few decades. How much worse might things get, and will it be too late to make a positive difference?
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If you feel like these worries are creeping into your mind on a regular basis, you may be experiencing something called climate anxiety. However, you're not alone. As more people recognize the impact of ongoing climate change, they feel a growing sense of worry about the future.
You can’t solve the world’s problems by yourself, but you can do something about climate anxiety. Below you’ll learn about essential tips for coping with climate anxiety while doing something helpful for the world around you.
What is Climate Anxiety?
As humans, we all need a sense of power to feel secure. Making decisions and having an impact on our daily environment help us find order and feel safe. And when something threatens that security, we can feel anxious and unsettled. You may feel this way when faced with the widespread harm you see from climate change, a feeling that can be called climate anxiety.
The global climate is a tough thing to comprehend. Even with the connection within humanity across the globe, it’s difficult to imagine the size of the Earth. So when something that large has problems, it’s easy to feel small and useless. What can you do when a mammoth hurricane or a record-breaking heat wave affects your area? You can endure the situation while it lasts, but it can cause you to start thinking about the larger problem. And if you don’t have much of a strategy, you’ll feel afloat in a sea of anxiety.
The news can be discouraging, too, even if it’s about problems on the other side of the globe. Hearing about changing ocean temperatures and wildlife habitats can be upsetting. It’s easy to feel hopeless when you keep seeing dire headlines about areas affected by significant change.
Witnessing loss and change from climate issues can lead to climate grief. This is the process of grieving the loss of a healthy, safe climate or environment.
What You Can Do About Your Climate Change Anxiety
As you learn more about the damage climate change has caused, you may feel a profound sense of grief settling in. You may also progress through several stages of climate grief, feeling sad, angry, or even some denial over the state of the planet. No matter how you process these issues, your concern can also be transformed into helpful actions. Take care of yourself, but also consider what you can do for your community.
It’s tempting to get caught up in worrying about a multitude of problems around the world. But that can leave you feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Instead, focus your activity on improving the communities where you live or work. You’ll see the fruits of your efforts more quickly because they impact your daily life. Consider the following ideas for calming your anxiety and making positive changes in your community.
1. Accept and acknowledge your anxiety as it arises
When fear and anxiety wash over you, your first reaction might be to shut off those feelings and stuff them away. Nobody enjoys feeling anxious, unsettled, and out of control. It’s the last thing you’ll feel like doing, but facing your emotions head-on can make them feel less overwhelming.
When you feel anxiety and tension rise, try to understand what triggered your emotions. Was it a news article? Did you see something wasteful or ecologically damaging in your community? Your anxiety is a normal reaction to something upsetting, but your emotions don’t have to take over. When you can understand what causes your anxiety to go up, you have a better chance of managing your reaction.
2. Take a break from the news
Media outlets often promote news in pronounced and sensationalized ways. That’s what keeps people’s attention on news sites, social media, and advertisements. It’s easy to feel tiny and powerless after reading some articles or watching news clips on TV. While climate-related information is worth learning about, sometimes it can be too much to take in. The harm of consuming upsetting information can have a bigger impact than the value of being informed.
If you’re to help your community, you need to feel like you can take action and have a purpose. That’s hard to do if your mind is swimming in catastrophic news headlines.
Take a break from the news and understand that it will continue in the background, whether you hear about it or not. When you come across upsetting stories or videos, shift your attention to other things. Close your computer, or find another thing to watch.
3. Find like-minded people for support and connection
There’s nothing like a sense of community to help you feel validated and heard. When you find others who share your concerns, you can help each other when you feel upset by current events. Anxiety can make you feel isolated and lonely, like you are the only one that feels so out of control. By connecting with others, you can pull yourself out of your own perspective and see that you’re not alone.
Together, you can generate creative ideas about climate-related issues that affect your community. Join efforts to address climate concerns or start your own group. By working together, you can lift each other’s spirits and stay focused on the issues that matter to you.
4. Focus on activities and coping skills that relax you
No matter what your anxiety stems from, having some reliable coping skills can help distract your mind and relax your body. Some simple and effective activities can include:
- Deep breathing, even for only a few minutes
- Slow muscle stretches
- Progressive relaxation — holding your muscles tight for several seconds, then releasing
- Focusing your eyes on something beautiful or mesmerizing for a few minutes
- Listening to your favorite music, or music you know can calm you
- Singing or humming
- Visualizing a favorite location or a relaxing scene
- Moving into a different physical space or room, change of scenery
- Turning down the lights
- Using a noise machine
5. Get some exercise, outdoors whenever possible
Exercise is a proven method for managing stress and anxiety. You can often find quick relief by taking a walk or doing something more strenuous when anxious feelings arise. Regular exercise can also train your body to handle a raised heart rate and increased physical stimulation. When your body gets practice calming itself down, it can do a better job when stressful feelings start to build.
Make a habit of getting your exercise outdoors whenever you can. The fresh air and sunlight can feel exhilarating, and the exposure to nature can lift your spirits. This can be as simple as a daily walk before work or over your lunch. Take the stairs or take the entrance on the far side of the parking lot. Even small amounts of exercise and activity can add up each day.
6. Grow something green in your home or office
Getting out into nature can have a calming effect on your mind and emotions. So why not also bring some nature to your indoor spaces? You spend a lot of time focusing your attention on tasks, schedules, and getting things done. A less active type of mental focus, called involuntary attention, can be refreshing while also improving your sense of wellbeing.
We use involuntary attention to explore stimulating things in our environment and help our brains recover from fatigue. Having plants in your home or office allows you to gently observe and reflect on a little spot of nature.
Caring for plants can also give you a sense of control over your personal environment. As you water and check on your plant through the week, you’ll see the direct results of your caretaking. And many plants help purify the air, making them practical additions to your personal space.
7. Make your home and travel habits more eco-friendly
While the world’s climate issues are too extensive for you alone to address, you can make a difference by making your habits more eco-friendly. Feeling anxious and guilty every day doesn’t improve these issues, and making drastic changes can feel like self-punishment. Instead, make conscious choices and adjust your lifestyle gradually.
You’ll feel more like you’re aligning with your beliefs than taking something away from your life.
Think about how you travel:
- Can you find ways to use more public transit?
- Are there other places where you can walk or ride a bike to?
- Could you carpool, walk, or make fewer trips to places you go frequently?
- How often do you take long trips requiring a lot of travel and use of fuel? Consider taking shorter trips in your regional area, taking longer trips less frequently.
Think about your home:
- How much do you recycle, and could you increase what you do?
- Could you make different choices about packaged foods to reduce waste?
- How can you include more sustainable eco-friendly products in your daily routines?
Climate Anxiety: Coping with Change
Climate change is all around us and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by it sometimes. But you don’t have to feel trapped or stuck because of climate anxiety. The things you do to take care of yourself will help you make positive change in your community, too.
And don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health counselor if your anxiety is too much to handle. You can make a difference and you aren’t alone.
- Fleischer, Deborah; Toepel, Ana. “Feeling Stressed about Climate Change? You Might Have Eco-Anxiety.” UCSF Office of Sustainability, September, 2019, sustainability.ucsf.edu/1.830
- Elam, Rachel. “Everyone Can Grow! Winter Programming Using an Indoor Horticulture Environmental Education Program to Benefit Military Veterans.” Winter 2019, cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1878&context=wwuet