With increased coverage of rising temperatures, melting ice caps, and extreme weather events, anxiety about the planet's future has become a legitimate concern for many. So much so, that a new term has been coined for it – climate anxiety.
This article explores what climate anxiety is, identifies its signs, and offers practical advice on how to cope with it.
What is climate anxiety?
Climate anxiety, also referred to as ‘eco-anxiety’ or ‘climate change anxiety’, is a psychological response to the challenges we face with regards to the planet’s environment; a fear or worry about the future due to the effects of climate change. This anxiety might be triggered when you see news coverage related to climate change, or when there is extreme weather near you.
If you’re experiencing fear or worry driven by changes to our climate, or negative news headlines you see on the topic, you are not alone. The Office of National Statistics found that almost three in four adults (74%) in the UK describe themselves as “worried” about climate change.
What are the signs of climate anxiety?
Climate anxiety manifests differently in different people, but there are common signs to watch out for. These include:
- Persistent worry about the state of the environment, to the degree that it interferes with your daily life and wellbeing
- Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness about the future due to climate change concerns
- Difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks due to persistent thoughts about environmental issues
- Changes in behaviour, such as significant alterations to your lifestyle, diet, or habits in an attempt to mitigate environmental harm
- Physical symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, headaches, or stomach problems, often linked to stress
In many cases, responding in this way to a situation you consider to be drastic is totally normal. Anxiety is a normal human response to something we consider a threat. Many of the same signs of climate anxiety overlap with other causes of anxiety like a job interview or dealing with money worries.
It becomes a problem when these feelings are affecting your daily life to the point where you find you’re no longer able to cope. Learn about the symptoms of anxiety disorders and if you think your climate anxiety is getting too much, it’s important that you seek professional support.
How to calm climate anxiety
While climate anxiety can feel overwhelming, there are some things you can do to help manage it. Here are some strategies to help calm your climate anxiety:
- Stay informed but set boundaries: Being informed about the climate crisis is important, but taking in too much distressing news can worsen feelings of anxiety. It's crucial to strike a balance, as media outlets tend to focus on the negative aspects of stories in the news. Remind yourself you might not be getting the full picture, and seek out positive stories as a counterbalance.
- Take action: Taking climate action can help to alleviate feelings of helplessness and empower you to make a difference. This could involve recycling, reducing energy consumption, advocating for environmental policies, or joining a local environmental group. Remember, every small action counts.
- Reframe the issue: Many people worry about the climate, but some adopt an optimistic view of the future. Humanity has faced challenges before, but we've continued to flourish thanks to innovation and technological advancement. Climate change is an issue we should all take seriously, but reframing it in ways like this could help you deal with any anxiety.
- Connect with others: Sharing your feelings with others can help alleviate anxiety. You could join a community group focused on climate change or participate in online forums where people share similar concerns.
- Practice self-care: Engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a balanced diet, ensuring you get enough sleep, and adopting mindfulness-related relaxation techniques, can all help reduce anxiety levels. Prioritising your mental health is a key part of managing climate anxiety.
- Seek professional help: If your anxiety feels overwhelming or is affecting your daily life, reach out to your GP or speak to a mental health professional.
“If you find yourself being adversely affected by the news, avoid repeatedly watching endless bulletins, which can leave you feeling helpless.
“Instead, identify how you are feeling and accept that it is an understandable response. Try and keep connected with your immediate reality and ground yourself in meaningful work or tasks to give yourself a sense of purpose and flow.
“Trying to focus on small, achievable goals, which could be engaging in an interesting project or having a meaningful conversation with another person, could help you rediscover some of the energy and enthusiasm that you might be lacking, and help alleviate some of your anxiety and stress. Try to avoid feeling guilty either about your emotional response to the negative external triggers or indeed to those negative triggers themselves.”
Children and climate anxiety
Climate anxiety isn’t limited to just adults. Teenagers and young people can also feeling anxious about the planet. Another study, this time done globally by The Lancet, found that 45% of children and young people said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.
Many of the same techniques mentioned above can help children to calm anxiety, but they may experience some confusion about what their feelings are and wonder how to process them.
For more tips and advice on children and anxiety, head to:
Support for climate anxiety
Remember, it's OK to feel anxious about climate change. But with these steps, we hope you'll be better equipped to manage your climate anxiety and take positive action for the future. Climate anxiety reflects your care for the planet and that can be channelled into positive change.
If you find that your anxiety is severely affecting your ability to live a normal life, it might be time to consider seeking treatment for anxiety. At Priory, our experts offer tailored inpatient and outpatient programmes to help manage and treat anxiety disorders, through our network of UK hospitals and wellbeing centres.
Use the information below to get in touch and find out more about how we can help your mental health and wellbeing.
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or submit an online enquiry form here.