Managing your mental health in the face of climate anxiety
If your eyes are open to the nearly incomprehensible consumption and waste in our world, you likely have your finger on the pulse of the environment. The sheer amount of plastic, increasing dangers to marine animals and deforestation are just a few primary concerns. Then there is loss of biodiversity, endangered wildlife, water shortages, copious energy consumption and rising temperatures. The fact is that the effects of climate change are all around us, and with them comes a sometimes paralyzing amount of climate anxiety.
Garbage along the roadside, overflowing landfills and rising sea levels leave us feeling overwhelmed and helpless. But there are many, many ways to take action and manage your mental health while we address the issues.
Internalizing the planet’s stress isn’t anything new. For generations, people have expressed concerns over toxic waste, damage to rainforests, decreasing wildlife habitats and similar issues. Objections at city council meetings across the country have battled new development at the cost of lost wetlands and other areas. Indigenous people recognized these issues long before governments started slowly respecting their voices on land management.
Understanding climate anxiety
As a result of our failure to unify, make policy changes and facilitate a cleaner lifestyle, we’ve pressed Earth to its limits. The overwhelming feeling of depression is real. Psychologists refer to it as climate grief, and it can be just as debilitating as any other kind of grief. The stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are the same.
Specifically, climate grief relates to ecology loss with a focus on what’s happened in the past. Another term, climate anxiety, refers to dread about what will happen in the future. If you’re feeling either of these conditions, know you’re not alone. In fact, a 2019 study by the American Psychological Association reported 68% of U.S. adults dealt with some degree of anxiety about climate change. Perhaps more pressing is that almost half (47%) of those aged 18 to 34 said their climate anxiety affected their daily lives.
Depression and anxiety related to the state of the environment is valid and should not be dismissed. Managing symptoms of climate grief or eco-anxiety is much the same process as other types of depression and anxiety.
Acknowledge the problem
Start by acknowledging it. Give it a name. Say it out loud. Talk to your therapist, spouse or friends about your concerns.
Give yourself permission
Be sad. Be concerned. Be overwhelmed. Whatever the feelings are, sit with them and allow yourself to feel. The body needs time to acknowledge the feeling to digest it. Basically, allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling. It’s part of the process of allowing it to move through you. If you try to suppress it, the process stalls, only to revisit later. Although facing depression and anxiety doesn’t feel good, dealing with it is a faster and healthier solution than stifling it.
Find like-minded people
Group therapy is a valuable resource. It allows you to understand you’re not alone or isolated in your feelings. However, your group doesn’t have to be others affected by depression or anxiety. It can be people who are taking action against climate change. Sometimes just the act of working with like-minded people brings hope and empowerment.
It’s even better if the group takes physical action since exercise is a primary tool in treating depression. Get outdoors for a beach cleanup, organize a neighborhood event or join in on a day of planting trees. Look for national groups organizing events in your area. If you don’t have any local groups, start one!
Recognize your contributions, not your limitations
Depression and anxiety can connect to a feeling of not having control. Climate change isn’t going to reverse overnight. One person can’t be a singular solution to the problem. But, every person can make a difference. Give yourself credit for everything you’re doing. Whether you work for a non-profit full time, volunteer one day each month or simply take your containers to the bulk section when shopping for food, your contributions matter. Don’t try to take on the entirety of the climate crisis, but celebrate your achievements instead.
Read the (good) news
Similarly, look to the bright side of what is being done on a broader scale. Instead of focusing solely on stories about oil spills, endangered animals and plastic waste, fill your feed with positive messages. Subscribe to uplifting news, read about people taking action all over the world, and join in positive conversations.
Tools to combat climate anxiety
Even after you’ve acknowledged your feelings, discovered you’re not alone and reset the messaging in your life, you’re going to have bad days. You’ll still feel crushing defeat at times. You’ll feel small and insignificant. You’ll wonder if anything you do really matters in the grand scheme of things.
When this happens, be kind to yourself. Practice meditation, go for a walk, get a massage, take deep breaths and have an understanding friend on speed dial. Learn to recognize when the feelings are rising so you can hit the reset button on your thinking.
In the end, repairing the damage of climate anxiety requires a focused effort. Just like fighting climate change, the results are gradual but worth every ounce of strife.