With the changing climate and natural disasters that have plagued our planet over the decades, eco-anxiety is now an increasingly common experience for people worldwide.
Today, psychologists and mental health professionals are speaking about the fear and anxiety associated with climate change. In addition, some people may have experienced environmental disasters like flooding and forest fires, which can cause eco-anxiety about the future.
According to surveys, 45% of young respondents say that negative feelings about climate change affect their daily lives.
If you are experiencing climate anxiety or fear of environmental doom, you are certainly not alone.
Read on as we look at eco-anxiety, its causes, symptoms, and simple yet effective ways to cope with eco-anxiety.
Related: You might also like our compilation of mental health quotes sharing first-hand experiences to grow awareness and stamp out stigma. If you know someone affected by eco-anxiety, start a conversation about mental health, or consider becoming a mental health first aider.
Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness or worry. It is a physiological response to stress or fear.
Eco-anxiety or ecological grief are terms used to describe the feeling of fear and worry about the effects of climate change and environmental issues. It is a psychological aftermath of climate change and a reality that threatens our mental and physical well-being.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), Eco-anxiety refers to the chronic fear of environmental doom.
Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) does not list eco-anxiety, and the condition is not diagnosable, it has become a common phenomenon. According to APA, two-thirds of American adults feel eco-anxiety3, with the effects of climate change and environmental degradation causing them to feel anxious. Many people feel fear and stress that impacts their daily lives.
The effects of climate change can lead to mental health symptoms like trauma and shock, anxiety, aggression, and depression. In addition, severe eco-anxiety can also impact physical health, increasing the risk of health conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease.
Many people identify with eco-anxiety around the world. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, over half of adults in the United States (56% of adults) acknowledge that climate change is one of the most critical issues in society.
A massive 68% of adults say they feel eco-anxiety about the changing climate and its effects.
Lancet also published a study that revealed that children and young adults suffer more from the consequences of environmental changes1, with 84% of children and young adults (ranging from 16 to 25 years) at least moderately worried about climate change and 59% very worried.
In a 2021 report from UNICEF, a billion children were estimated to be at high risk due to climate change2. According to this report, these children face environmental shocks and inadequate essential services, increasing their vulnerability.
Many factors can influence eco-anxiety in people. Such factors include media coverage, personal experience, natural disaster, or increased concern about climate change and environmental issues. Here are some significant causes of eco-anxiety:
First-hand experience with the results of environmental degradation is a leading cause of eco-anxiety. Hearing news about global warming, climate change, and other ecological issues is one thing. But living through an environmental disaster is another.
Perhaps, someone may have lost their home and other properties during a storm, or they may have lost a loved one to forest fires. These experiences can impose psychological impacts on some people, causing increased stress, irritability, and mental distress.
While creating awareness through the media can be a great way to stir people to take action toward environmental change, there may be other effects.
For example, doom scrolling through news coverage and media reports about eco-terrorism, and extreme weather events like the destruction of forests, coral reefs, and animal species can also raise a person’s anxiety levels. This can turn them away from positive thinking and plunge them into heightened feelings of grief, anxiety, and other mental health effects.
Some people may feel guilt and powerlessness about their impact and judge themselves harshly. While taking steps in your everyday life to reduce your carbon footprint can make a difference, resolving climate change requires a global effort. The feeling of powerlessness can play a significant role in causing climate anxiety.
Some people may live or work in locations impacted by climate change. These locations may have experienced hurricanes, droughts, and other extreme weather conditions. As a result, people who live or work in these locations may feel anxious, ultimately affecting their mental and physical well-being.
Most people can experience mental health impacts from environmental issues. However, some groups are more prone to climate change distress than others. This includes people who live in places affected by extreme weather conditions and indigenous groups who rely on their local lands and water for their livelihood. These people may more acutely experience the physical and mental health effects of environmental destruction.
Here is a list of people who are at increased risk of eco-anxiety:
The symptoms of eco-anxiety can range from feelings of stress and anger to more extreme cases like depression and mental health disorders. Here are a few signs of eco-anxiety:
These symptoms may lead to more heightened cases like appetite changes and sleep problems. In addition, some people may experience overwhelming stress and employ negative coping skills like alcohol and substance abuse. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, there are ways to cope with eco-anxiety and improve your overall mental and physical well-being.
If you feel anxious about the planet and can identify with the symptoms, it is essential to remember you are not alone. Thankfully, there are simple and effective ways to find some relief.
These feelings are a perfectly normal response to the real climate crisis in our world. Therefore, trying to downplay or deny those feelings is not the ideal way of dealing with them.
According to studies by Liza Jachens4, a psychologist at the University of Geneva Switzerland, instead of suppressing feelings of concern, confronting those emotions is a better way of reducing their effect.
In other words, in dealing with your eco-anxiety, the first step is not to try to change those feelings but to learn how to manage them.
To reduce feelings of anxiety and stress identifying your triggers can be very effective in reducing anxiety and stress. Reducing your interaction with news and discussions may be an excellent place to start. You want to limit the consumption of information on extreme weather events and stay off discussions related to the global climate crisis.
You also want to avoid arguing or getting aggressive with people who don’t see climate change as a real environmental issue. Identifying your triggers can help reduce eco-anxiety and improve your overall mental health.
Connecting with people who share similar concerns can be great for people experiencing eco-anxiety. Studies from Lisa Jachens show that interacting with people of like minds can help reduce the psychological impact of eco-anxiety.
For example, suppose you are feeling overwhelmed about climate change. In that case, you can connect with physical community organizations or online support groups that can lend a listening ear and offer emotional and social support. In addition, you can participate in neighborhood trash pickup or beach cleanup and other waste reduction activities around your area. Turning to your family and friends for help can be another great way to reduce feelings of eco-anxiety.
To reduce those anxious feelings, consider spending more time with nature to reduce those anxious feelings. Consider getting outdoors, going to your favorite spots, and spending more time in green spaces.
For example, you can go to a water creek and listen to the sound of gushing water or meditate out in the park. Many studies show that connecting with the natural world can alleviate stress and improve your emotional and mental health. Connecting with nature can also be very good for children. Children who spend more time with nature will most likely develop more robust emotional health and a resolve to protect the environment.
If you’re passionate about the environment, you will probably have environmental news on your social media feeds. Doom Scrolling news about climate crisis can increase feelings of helplessness and anxiety and ultimately affect your daily life.
To alleviate stress and protect your mental health, you want to limit media consumption related to climate change and verify your sources of environmental information. In addition, you want to reduce the time spent reading about climate change and engage in other activities that help relieve stress and anxiety.
Making greener changes to your daily life can alleviate stress, improve your sense of self, and encourage others to do the same. You can start by finding ways to reduce your environmental impact and dependence on fossil fuels.
For example, you can practice more sustainable living, switching out the plastics in your home for more sustainable options like zero-waste products. You can also walk or ride a bike to the grocery store instead of driving. Not only does this reduce your environmental impact, but it also improves your physical and mental health.
Relying on inaccurate information about the changing climate can make it hard to process and increase feelings of anxiety. Educating yourself with accurate environmental information and climate change facts can build resilience against the climate crisis. If you feel overwhelmed and anxious, you can familiarize yourself with credible information about ecological issues.
Resilience is adapting to difficult life experiences by making behavioral adjustments. People who have built resiliency skills can better cope with anxiety, trauma, and stress. For example, building resilience can help one cope with trauma from natural disasters. Here are simple ways you can build resilience:
Optimism can help people adjust to negative experiences like natural disasters. This is because optimistic people view negative experiences as temporary setbacks instead of permanent ones.
Staying optimistic can help you relieve anxious feelings about the environment and break the cycle of negative thoughts. You can build optimism by engaging in more positive thinking about the world. Take out time to appreciate nature and practice mindfulness. You also want to surround yourself with optimistic people who make you feel good about yourself and the world.
Natural disasters may happen at any time. Being prepared can reduce anxious feelings and foster security and control. Firstly, you want to create an emergency kit containing an essential water supply, food, flashlights, medications, and so on. You also want to create a plan for your children, pets, and loved ones in case of separation during an environmental disaster.
If you’ve tried several at-home tips and don’t seem to be getting any relief, it may be time to seek the help of wellness professionals. Today, many mental health professionals are receiving training on how to cope with people and their relationship with the environment. You can seek help from a mental health professional to help you handle severe cases of ecological grief.
Climate Psychology Alliance is an organization that offers support to people dealing with eco-anxiety. Also, they educate therapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals on the public health impacts of climate change.
Children can develop anxious feelings toward climate change and may struggle to process their emotions. Here are simple ways you can help children deal with eco-anxiety:
Eco-anxiety has become a common phenomenon in today’s world. However, taking action and finding ways to cope with those feelings of fear and uncertainty can go a long way. You can try out some of the tips listed above or seek the help of a professional if things escalate.
Caroline Hickman, MSc, Elizabeth Marks, ClinPsyD, Panu Pihkala, Ph.D., Prof Susan Clayton, Ph.D., R Eric Lewandowski, Ph.D., Elouise E Mayall, BSc, Britt Wray, Ph.D., Catriona Mellor, MBChB, Lise van Susteren, MD (December 2021) Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey The Lancet Planetary Health
The Climate Crisis is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index (pdf).
American Psychological Association. (2020, February 6). Majority of US adults believe climate change is most important issue today [Press release].
Baudon P, Jachens L. A Scoping Review of Interventions for the Treatment of Eco-Anxiety. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(18):9636. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189636
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.