Climate Anxiety and 6 Ways to Cope
Climate anxiety, also known as eco-anxiety is on the rise in both children and adults. And it’s no surprise, with the UK government's endless false promises that will unlikely help limit global warming to 1.5C. Not to mention, social media and news channels constantly covering doom-laden predictions about climate change. When you deeply care about the planet, it's hard to switch off from it all.
Climate Anxiety Definition
Climate anxiety is defined as:
“extreme worry about current and future harm to the environment caused by human activity and climate change.”
It could present itself as a knot you get in your stomach when reading a news article or a racing heart when discussing the future of the planet with a friend.
We should, though, be careful not to frame climate anxiety as an “illness”. Whilst it can be part of larger generalised anxiety disorders, it’s also possible - and common - to experience it solely in response to rational concerns about the future of the planet.
A 2020 survey completed by child psychiatrists in England showed that more than half are seeing children and young people distressed about the climate crisis. They often (understandably) feel the government isn't listening to their concerns and implementing real structural change. This leads to feelings of helplessness and dread about global ecological disaster.
Eco Anxiety Symptoms
So what are eco anxiety symptoms and what do they look like? Well, because climate anxiety isn’t a recognised illness as such, it doesn’t actually have an official list of “symptoms”. But the type of experiences we may have when experiencing it are:
A sense of hopelessness
Spending a lot of time thinking about climate change and the future
Anger or frustration, particularly at people who don’t acknowledge climate change
Guilt or shame for not being a “perfect” environmentalist
Feelings of depression
Loneliness or isolating yourself, feeling others don’t understand
Trouble sleeping or staying asleep
Changes in appetite
Many of us may experience a few of these for a fleeting short period of time, like whist watching the news. For others, it becomes a much more serious problem that occupies a lot of their thoughts.
How to deal with climate anxiety
From one environmentalist to another, here are some small tips on how to deal with climate anxiety without ignoring or dismissing your feelings.
1. Validate your own feelings
When considering how to deal with climate anxiety, it’s important to remember that it is a completely rational feeling to be concerned about the destruction of the planet we live on. You likely feel this way because you are a thoughtful, compassionate person who cares about the planet and the people that live on it. Your climate anxiety is not the result of an irrational delusion or fear, but rather an understandable concern. The key is to recognise this without letting these thoughts overtake all the beautiful things in life too.
Denying or pushing down your feelings often exacerbates them. Instead, acknowledge them, try journaling your worries and really allow yourself to validate your fears. The fact you are climate-aware may mean you probably feel a lot of anxiety over things that some people don’t even consider. But it also means you are a badass activist who can be part of the movement for change - never forget that!
2. Take time out from climate news
Of course it’s good to stay informed, but not at the expense of our health or ability to function. Try limiting your news consumption to 10, 20 or 30 minutes per day to avoid it controlling your mood. For example, if you use news apps, set an app-specific timer limit on your phone to stop the urge to doom scroll.
And, you could even sign up to the Spruce “Good News” newsletter to be emailed some positive stories from around the globe.
3. Take Manageable Individual Action
One of the best ways to alleviate the feeling of uncertainty and helplessness that comes with climate anxiety is to be part of the movement for change. It helps remind us of the power of individual action.
Not all action needs to be overwhelming, stressful, or time consuming! If you want to help without adding more pressure on yourself, try:
Signing a climate related petition & then sharing it with 5 friends
Purchasing your next new item of clothing second hand instead of fast fashion
Bringing a reusable mug to café
Making one easy low-waste swap in your household or personal care routine (such as plastic-free refillable cleaning products)
4. Prioritise Self Care
If climate anxiety (or any type of anxiety for that matter) is starting to consume your thoughts, it’s time to prioritise self-care. Because if you don’t love and take care of yourself, how can you love and care for the planet? You are just as worthy of effort as you think the earth is.
Some sustainable self-care ideas without unnecessary waste or overconsumption include:
Spend more time outside and in nature
Switch off electronics and tech (at least for a few hours, if not longer)
Book a day off work for an activity you enjoy
Say no to something you don’t want to do
Make your favourite food and eat it mindfully
5. Talk to someone
Talking to a friend, partner or family member can help remind you that you are not alone. Especially if they are also climate-conscious. Speaking to like-minded people can even inspire us to make group actions like attending a peaceful protest, starting an environmentalist group, or making lifestyle changes together.
6. Seek Professional Help
Not everything can be solved on our own or by talking with loved ones. If you feel your climate anxiety is becoming overwhelming or part of a larger concern, you may want to seek advice from a professional or specialised service. Especially if how you feel is impacting your daily life and making it difficult to function.
Some resources include:
Visiting your local GP
If you are ages 12-20, Nopanic, have a youth helpline, (03306061174), where help-liners are trained to deal with anxiety and panic attacks
If you are under 25 The Mix have a phone and text message service for crisis situations
For any ages, Anxiety.co.uk have a range of helpful resources including a phone and text helpline
So, there you have it! Our top tips on coping with eco-anxiety. Please remember that as individuals, we can only do so much. So if you are eating a plant based diet, minimising waste, trying plastic-free products, walking or cycling to work or trying to reduce our footprint - give yourself some credit!
And you are not alone. At Spruce we always love to hear from you over on our Instagram @we.are.spruce - so visit us and leave on comment or send us a DM on your experiences with eco anxiety. And feel free to give us a follow and join our community of perfectly imperfect environmentalists.
Written by Eleni Evangelinos