Feb 10, 2023 • Annie Cao
As we keep hearing about climate change and its impact on the weather and environment, it’s normal for some anxiety to creep into our lives. After all, it’s a topic we’ve grown familiar with — from seeing natural disasters on the news to experiencing changes in the weather every year, it’s something we can’t avoid even if we wanted to.
In recent years, people have become more aware of how their actions are affecting the Earth and some have started to experience negative feelings over the future of the planet. This newfound awareness and these emotions may possibly be symptoms of eco-anxiety.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), they define eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” It’s currently not listed as a disease in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), so doctors don’t officially consider it as a diagnosable condition. However, eco-anxiety is still something that affects many people to some degree.
Anxiety usually happens when the body is responding to perceived threats with a fight-flight-freeze survival instinct. Typically, we think of these perceived threats as being far-fetched and irrational. But since climate change is a real threat, you could argue that this is a rare case of anxiety working how it’s supposed to. In this case, anxiety about the environment causes people to look for solutions to climate change in order to survive.
People may experience symptoms of varying degrees depending on how aware they are about the environment and how severe climate change is in their area. Some of these symptoms are:
Eco-anxiety can affect anyone, but people who live in communities that are vulnerable to extreme weather changes are the most affected by ecological changes.
These groups are more susceptible to eco-anxiety:
If you’re experiencing these feelings and aren’t sure what to do, here are 5 strategies that can help you manage eco-anxiety.
It’s perfectly reasonable to want to ignore climate change to ease your anxiety. But unfortunately, avoiding these emotions won’t make you feel better. It’s easier said than done, but fully acknowledging the reality of climate change and allowing yourself to feel your emotions is important.
After letting those feelings in, you can work on forgiving yourself and committing to making better choices in the future. You should also remind yourself that you’re only one person, and doing what you can is enough. Focusing on positive thinking and strengthening your mindset can help break the cycle of negative thoughts and reduce anxiety.
Sometimes inaccurate or not enough information can make you feel unprepared or hopeless in the face of climate change. Finding trustworthy and credible sources and staying updated on what’s happening in the world can help you and communities feel prepared and resilient if a natural disaster occurs.
There are many ways to be sustainable. For example, you can participate in activities such as:
And there’s a variety of things you can change in your daily habits that will add up, like:
It’s also okay if you’re not perfect – you don’t have to be zero-waste or be involved with an organization make a difference. Every action you take in your day-to-day life counts for something.
Learning about climate change is beneficial, but if you start to feel overwhelmed, it can cause anxiety. Checking your sources and cutting back on the amount of information you’re consuming can help reduce stress.
Taking a break from media sources and fully unplugging from our devices is also a great way to refresh and calm our minds.
Lastly, spending time in the world that we’re trying to save can help your mental health. Seeing all the green and blue spaces that still exist can calm your anxiety and staying active by exercising outdoors will help you reduce stress and enjoy nature.
Although it can be easy to feel discouraged about climate change and to think that there’s not enough change happening, the fact that people are more interested in the environment and are working on taking better care of the planet is a step in the right direction. It may take some time to see bigger results, but as long as we don’t give up and continue seeking out sustainable solutions, we can make a difference.
Cover image by nnphi.org