12 Oct Climate Anxiety and How to Cope
Every day we are faced with the reality of our world changing; first slowly and now increasingly faster. This reality has become more accessible with social media providing ready access to stories locally and across the globe about the climatic situation of our planet. Watching reports of how climate change is impacting our environment can lead to people experiencing a form of anxiety known as Climate Anxiety.
Climate Anxiety is a type of anxiety that usually occurs when people feel dread or distress about climate change and its impact on all life. Climate Anxiety can impact all ages but is prevalent among the younger generation, affecting 16–25-year-olds the most. Such anxiety may impact everyone differently, but commonly manifests as:
- Overthinking about climate change and the contributing factors as well as the impact
- Sadness and grief about the loss associated with climate change, both currently and in the future
- Intrusive negative thoughts about potential climate disasters and the future of the world
Climate Anxiety can be managed through behavioural, cognitive, somatic, and emotional strategies. Below are some strategies that may help climate anxiety symptoms more manageable:
- Acting – Doing something to reduce your carbon footprint is a significant coping strategy that may help manage the distress. Such behaviours may include:
- Participating in climate action groups
- Changing individual or household behaviours, such as purchasing green energy, turning down heaters, bike commuting or using public transport.
- Taking a News Break – Keeping up with all the information and latest news reports on climate change doesn’t actually solve climate change. Instead it can increase anxiety, helplessness and feelings of fear. Taking a break can include:
- Turning off the 24/7 news feed and choosing a set time to read the news, instead of having access all day
- Electing to spend some time a day engaged in an activity that helps boost your mood; from listening to a comedic podcast, to getting some exercise or socialising
- Maintaining healthy routines – Including healthy habits in your routines can boost your mood and help maintain resilience.
- Find ways to move your body the way you enjoy. Regular exercise releases a chemical in your brain called serotonin, which improves overall mood.
- Get a full night’s sleep; which has both mood sustaining and anxiety reducing effects
- Balancing action with reflection – Reading, writing journals or blogs are all activities that allow you to reflect on the feelings you’re experiencing. Keeping a regular journal can help people stay conscious and work more effectively towards setting long and short-term goals.
- Reframing your thoughts – When we are stressed our ability to be flexible with our thoughts can sometimes diminish. This is where a strategy known as ‘reframing’ can be helpful. It is a way of restructuring the thoughts you have into a frame that is more valid and helpful. Examples can include:
- Reframe “We may be doomed” to a more fact based (and helpful) frame such as “History shows people can change”.
- Reframe “I am helpless” to “I am doing the best I can to reduce my carbon footprint.”
Getting in touch with your body can be an extremely empowering way to feel a sense of safety and groundedness when anxious. Body based strategies include:
- Breathing exercises such as deep breathing
- Guided meditation that focuses on full body scan, to increase your awareness of each part of your body.
These techniques help address some of the impactful emotions Climate Anxiety can cause. These include:
- Validate your own feelings – Acknowledge that your feelings are based on genuine concerns
- Have a cry if you need to – Venting emotions in whatever way feels healthy and safe for you can be helpful
- Label your emotions – All the feelings that can emerge when you have Climate Anxiety can be intense and overwhelming. Naming each one you feel, which can help reduce some of that overwhelm.