Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. - Chief Dan George, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh Nation)
As the summer unfolded, screens across the globe relayed unprecedented scenes: the historic town of Lahaina, Maui, consumed by the relentless rage of wildfires, displacing thousands and changing countless lives. Across the Pacific, Kelowna, BC confronted similar devastation, signalling a stark realization that the wildfire season had arrived earlier and with more ferocity than ever before.
It's an eerie experience, watching these catastrophes unfold from the safety of our screens, yet feeling them so close to the heart. Lori Daniels, a renowned figure in forest and conservation sciences, aptly pointed out, "Society is already paying a huge cost for these climate change-fuelled fires." And indeed, the implications aren't just environmental; they're deeply human. The landscapes that shift, change, and sometimes disappear hold memories, histories, and shared stories.
In my profession, I've seen a notable shift. More individuals are stepping into therapy burdened with existential concerns, grief, and a profound sense of helplessness. Anger, too, particularly directed at the perceived inaction of governing bodies across the globe. Climate disasters, once distant news articles, now feel close to home, intensifying our collective concern about the future and our place within it.
In this blog, we journey into that space, that nexus where our changing environment meets our internal worlds. We'll seek to understand the mounting phenomenon of climate anxiety, how it's reshaping our mental well-being, and the ways we can navigate through this tumultuous era. Together, let's face the bigger questions of existence, purpose, and our role in a world that feels increasingly fragile.
What is Climate Anxiety?
Climate anxiety is a form of anxiety that arises from concerns about the environment and the future of the planet. It is a response to the existential threat posed by climate change. It can manifest in different ways, including feelings of helplessness, despair, and guilt. It can also lead to physical symptoms of anxiety from restlessnes, to headaches, fatigue, and insomnia.
Climate anxiety is not a new phenomenon. However, the increasing frequency and severity of climate disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, have brought the issue to the forefront of public consciousness. The media coverage of these events can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and despair.
Impact on Mental Health
Climate anxiety can have a significant impact on mental health. It can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. The sense of helplessness and despair can be overwhelming, leading to a loss of motivation and purpose. Climate anxiety can also affect relationships, as it can be difficult to communicate these feelings to others who may not share the same concerns.
In addition to the direct impact on mental health, climate change can also have indirect effects. For example, natural disasters and displacement can lead to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Food insecurity and water scarcity can also lead to anxiety and depression.
Coping with Climate Anxiety
Coping with climate anxiety requires a multifaceted approach. It involves addressing the root causes of the anxiety, managing the symptoms, and taking action to address the issue.
1. Addressing the Root Causes
One of the first steps in coping with climate anxiety is to address the root causes of the anxiety. This involves understanding the issue of climate change and its impact on the planet. It also involves acknowledging the emotions that arise from this understanding.
It is essential to recognize that climate anxiety is a rational response to the current state of the world. It is a sign that we care about the environment and the future of the planet. However, it is vital to manage these emotions in a healthy way.
One way to address the root causes of climate anxiety is to educate yourself about the issue. This may involve reading books, watching documentaries, and attending lectures on climate change. It can also include engaging in discussions with others who share similar concerns.
Practising mindfulness is another way to address the root causes of climate anxiety. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and observing one's thoughts and emotions without judgment. This can help you become more aware of their emotions and manage them in a healthy way. Feeling complex and difficult feelings in the face of these unprecendented times is normal. Notice and attend your feelings with compassion, kindness and acceptance.
2. Managing the Symptoms
Managing the symptoms of climate anxiety involves caring for one's mental and physical health. This can include engaging in activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction, such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises.
It is also essential to maintain a healthy, happy lifestyle, including getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise and reconnecting with loved ones, nature, art, music and activities that uplift your spirit and soul.
Be wary of absorbing too much news. Doom scrolling can be an absorbing and exhaustive pass-time. While staying informed is valuable, it's also essential to recognize when you need to disconnect. If you feel swamped with despair and hopelessness, take a step back and give yourself a mental and emotional break.
Don't hesitate to discuss your feelings, be it with loved ones or a therapist. Sometimes, articulating our thoughts can provide clarity and help us to recognize and constructively respond to any feelings of grief, fear, anger , despair or hopelessness we might be experiencing.
3. Taking Action
Taking action to address climate change can also help to alleviate climate anxiety. This can involve engaging in individual actions, such as reducing one's carbon footprint, as well as collective actions, such as participating in protests and advocating for policy change.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, focus on what you can control. While the magnitude of climate change can be overwhelming, individual actions matter. Take a moment to identify what personal choices and behaviors are within your control, and how you can reasonably contribute to positive change. Every effort counts.
Individual actions may include reducing energy consumption, using public transportation, and reducing meat consumption. These actions can help to reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future.
Collective actions can include participating in protests, contacting elected officials, and supporting organizations that advocate for climate action. These actions can help raise awareness about the issue and pressure policymakers to take action.
Community action also unites us with others, reminding us that we are not alone. This shared sense of purpose can be uplifting and rejuvenate your commitment to creating meaningful change.
If you are riding a powerful wave of passion and advocacy, be wary you don't spread yourself too thin. Avoid overloading yourself and burning out. Choose specific causes or projects that resonate with you, and r emember, it's okay to decline certain roles or tasks. Find what aligns with your strengths and energy
Climate anxiety, as we've seen, is a legitimate and profoundly human response to the immense challenges posed by our changing planet. This anxiety is more than just a fleeting emotion; it can shape our mental well-being, daily decisions, and perspectives on the future. But, amid this anxiety, there lies an empowering truth: we have the ability to make choices, seek support, and become advocates for both ourselves and our planet.
The path forward involves layers of action. On a personal level, taking care of our mental well-being and seeking support—whether through loved ones or professionals—are pivotal. Should you feel overwhelmed, remember you're not alone in this journey. As a psychotherapist, I provide guidance and support tailored to your unique experiences and feelings.
On a broader scale, our collective advocacy for systemic changes is crucial. Rally behind policies and initiatives that prioritize the environment. Support and collaborate with organizations dedicated to tackling climate challenges. As we often say in therapy, the first step in addressing a problem is acknowledging it. Our acknowledgement can shape our actions, pushing for a greener, more just world.
To conclude, while daunting, our feelings of climate anxiety can also be catalysts. They can propel us towards understanding, action, and hope. Addressing its root causes, navigating its impact on our mental health, and choosing to be part of the solution can mitigate this anxiety and pave the way for a brighter, more sustainable future.
If you are grappling with these feelings and need a space to process, discuss, and find coping strategies, I invite you to book a session with me. Together, we can navigate these emotions and work towards personal and collective healing.