Record snowfall in Madrid, flooding in China, the heat dome and wildfires in the Pacific north west and warnings of extreme weather events. The climate crisis has been building for years but is recently rarely far from the headlines or social media and it’s bringing with it a rise in eco or climate anxiety.

Our annual Public Perceptions Survey this year found that 60% of people in the UK say that climate change has had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing. For 16 to 24 year-olds, the figure was 73%.

What is eco-anxiety?

Also known as climate anxiety, eco-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. While it is an issue caused by the wider systems (including economic, historical and social structures) that we live in, it is impacting a growing number of individuals.  

Executive coach and BACP counsellor Linda Aspey is a member of the Climate Psychology Alliance

She says: "Climate anxiety is a very normal and valid response to an awakening to the enormity of climate change, which represents threat on many levels. The feelings can be acute or can become chronic, and they can come and go."

What are the symptoms of climate anxiety?

Climate anxiety can show itself in a range of ways, including feelings of depression, anxiety, and sadness.

"It's understandable, worrying about the future," says Linda. "You can feel distress, grief, mourning, rage and even guilt at what humankind has done. It can evoke a sense of a lack of control and feeling powerless at the sheer scale of things, and you can feel hopeless."

For some young people there’s anger towards older generations and those who don’t acknowledge climate change.

"We’ve known about climate change for decades to some degree - and many around the globe have already been impacted and traumatised by events but here we’ve pushed it away," she says. "It can feel overwhelming because there are so many things that need addressing."

Climate anxiety can affect everyday life and decisions for people. Young people are particularly feeling it. For example, many are battling with whether or not to have children as a recent global study of 10,000 young people aged 16-25 revealed, with four in ten people being hesitant to have children and six in 10 were very or extremely worried about climate change.

When does climate anxiety become a problem?

Climate anxiety becomes a problem when it begins to take over everything you think about and do. It can become intrusive, impacting your eating and sleeping habits, and lead you to obsessive worrying all the time about the future. People who already have mental health challenges can be more susceptible to it, and of course, those who live in areas already significantly impacted by climate change can become very anxious for their own and their families’ safety and wellbeing. 

How can you cope with climate anxiety?

Linda says, "The sheer scale of climate change can feel so overwhelming that people look for ways to avoid thinking about it. We can use a variety of defence processes to ward off the anxiety of the scale of this - think of them as shock absorbers for the truth. These include avoidance, distancing (it’s over there, not here), and seemingly not caring. So when you feel anxiety and want to talk about it, others may get defensive. 

"Talking about it really helps, but it can be hard if your friends and family don’t want to. There’s a growing number of community groups and activist organisations where you can meet others and talk. There’s also a growing number of climate crisis cafes. Some of these are therapeutically oriented, while others offer a chance to chat informally over a cup of coffee. Either way they offer a place and space where people can talk to others who feel the same and share their feelings. It’s really important to acknowledge and validate feelings because otherwise they can just eat you up."

Other ways to manage your feelings could be by writing a blog, setting up your own climate conversations group, reading about how to cope with climate anxiety, meditation, mindfulness, keeping a gratitude diary to remind you of what is good in your life, exercising and eating well. Try to get plenty of sleep and don't drink too much alcohol.

Linda adds, "Knowing what your stress factors are is important. If you already know how you respond to stress, you can take steps to stop it from escalating. And I recommend that you don’t watch and read everything about climate change – doom scrolling can bring you down. Keep your news intake balanced so you aren’t completely avoiding it but you’re not completely hooked on it”.

"I would stress that being in nature can be beneficial and is massively therapeutic, whether it’s alone or with a group involved in tree-planting, litter-picking or nature watching, those kinds of things. 

"Being outdoors as much as you possibly can and seeing yourself as part of something bigger is great. It can also be a painful experience because it can put you in touch with what we’re losing, but allowing yourself to feel what you feel is part of finding ways forward."

How can therapy help with eco-anxiety?

Therapy can help you develop coping skills to manage emotional distress and to find a balance.

"There’s a growing number of climate and ecology orientated therapists, coaches and psychologists," says Linda. "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. They are there, and for every person having a conversation about climate change, and taking actions, large and small, there are millions more. 

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