Feeling the Heat: Addressing the Emotional Consequences of the Climate Crisis
The climate crisis has been building for years and is rarely far from the headlines or social media, with events like record snowfall in Madrid, flooding in China, the heat dome and wildfires in the Pacific northwest and warnings of extreme weather events becoming more frequent. With this rise in awareness of the severity of the situation, there has also been an increase in eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety, also known as climate anxiety, refers to people's stresses, fears, and worries about the future of the planet and their feelings of hopelessness at the scale of the issue.
The Public Perceptions Survey found that 60% of people in the UK say that climate change has had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing, with 73% of 16 to 24-year-olds reporting the same. Climate anxiety can show itself in a range of ways, including feelings of depression, anxiety, and sadness. It can affect everyday life and decisions, with many young people struggling with whether or not to have children.
Linda Aspey, a member of the Climate Psychology Alliance, describes climate anxiety as a normal and valid response to the enormity of climate change. However, it can become intrusive and lead to obsessive worrying all the time about the future. People who already have mental health challenges can be more susceptible to it, and those who live in areas significantly impacted by climate change can become very anxious for their own and their families' safety and wellbeing.
To cope with climate anxiety, talking about it with friends, family, or community groups and activist organisations. Additionally, writing a blog, setting up your own climate conversations group, reading about how to cope with climate anxiety, meditation, mindfulness, keeping a gratitude diary, exercising, eating well, and getting plenty of sleep can help manage feelings. However, keeping your news intake balanced so that you aren't completely avoiding it, but you're not completely hooked on it. Being in nature can also be beneficial and is massively therapeutic, as it can put you in touch with what we're losing and allow you to feel what you feel as part of finding ways forward.
Therapy can also help with eco-anxiety, and there is a growing number of climate and ecology-oriented therapists, coaches, and psychologists. Their role is to listen to and validate your feelings and help you see that this doesn't have to be all of your life, it can be part of it, so you don't get overwhelmed. They can help you think about the coping strategies you want to use, what you want to get involved in and where you want to use your energies, and where you see reasons for hope.
Eco-anxiety is a valid and normal response to the enormity of climate change. It can show itself in a range of ways, including feelings of depression, anxiety, and sadness, and it can affect everyday life and decisions. Coping strategies such as talking about it, being in nature, and getting therapy can help manage feelings and find a balance. It's essential to acknowledge and validate feelings because otherwise, they can become overwhelming. There is hope, and together we can take action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.