If climate change keeps you up at night, here’s how to deal

A wildfire in Northern California and the calving of a mile-long glacier appear on your newsfeed. Severe reminders of climate change are constant and can cause additional stress in your daily tasks. For example, when searching through your shopping cart full of baby wipes, sandwich bags, and baby food packets, you might second-guess your choices, knowing that the plastic in these items will never completely break down. You might feel guilty about driving the short distance to the store, or you might struggle to stop worrying about how your actions will affect future generations.

What is climate anxiety?

Climate anxiety, or eco-anxiety, is distress related to concerns about the effects of climate change. It’s not a mental illness. Rather, it is anxiety rooted in uncertainty about the future and warning us of the dangers of a changing climate. Climate change is a real threat and therefore it is normal to feel worry and fear of the consequences. Anxiety about the weather is often accompanied by feelings of sadness, anger, guilt and shame, which in turn can affect mood, behavior and thinking.

How common is weather anxiety?

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, more than two-thirds of Americans experience some weather anxiety. A study published by The Lancet found that 84% of 16- to 25-year-olds are at least moderately concerned about climate change, and 59% are very or extremely concerned. This makes sense, as children and young people will disproportionately suffer from the consequences of environmental change. A 2021 UNICEF report estimates that one billion children will be at “extremely high risk” as a result of climate change. Children and young adults are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of chronic stress, and climate anxiety can affect their risk of developing depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

How does climate change affect mental health?

In addition to existential concerns and fears about the future, climate change can affect mental health both directly (such as through natural disasters or heat) and indirectly (through displacement, migration and food insecurity). Increased temperature has been associated with increased emergency room visits for psychiatric reasons and may impair cognitive development in children and adolescents. Additionally, food insecurity is associated with depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems.

How can you manage weather anxiety?

As uncertainty and loss of control characterize climate anxiety, the best treatment is to take action. On an individual level, it is therapeutic to share your worries and fears with trusted friends, a therapist, or join a support group. You too can make lifestyle changes in line with your values. This could include deciding to fly fewer flights, participating in a protest, or raising public awareness of climate change through advocacy. Joining an organization like The Good Grief Network can help you process feelings related to climate anxiety and connect with others to take meaningful action.

How can you help a younger person?

Climate anxiety disproportionately affects children and young people. To be an ally to a child, teen, or young adult with climate anxiety, consider showing your support in the following ways:

  • Validate your concerns. “I hear you, and it makes sense that you would be concerned (or angry) about this issue.”
  • Help direct your efforts to advocacy groups. Spend time together researching organizations they can get involved with.
  • Educate yourselves on steps the two of you can take to minimize your impact on the environment.
  • Support your loved one’s decisions to make changes to their lifestyle, especially changes they can witness at home.
  • Spend time in nature with your family or consider planting flowers or trees.

the bottom line

Climate anxiety is fraught with uncertainty, but taking action can help you feel in control. Talk to others, join forces, and make lifestyle changes based on your values.

If climate change keeps you up at night, here’s how to deal

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