3 Ways to Cope with Climate Anxiety

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The climate crisis wreaks havoc across the globe, wielding its destructive power unequally. With some regions submerged under floods and others at the mercy of raging wildfires, the impact and experience vary dramatically. 

People all over the world are experiencing these changes differently. While some experience these natural disasters fueled by climate change firsthand, others witness these tragedies through news stories and social media. As a result, a new form of worrying has surfaced, called Climate Anxiety or Climate Change Anxiety. 

What is climate anxiety?

Climate anxiety as defined by many scholars can be summarized as a heightened worry about the future in relation to the climate crisis. There are some similar terms used in modern-day vocabulary to describe this feeling of increased worry and stress such as eco-anxiety (Pihkala, 2020), and ecological grief (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018). However, each of these terms has slight differences in the scope and feelings they are referring to. 

In this post, we’ll provide more insights on what climate anxiety is, who may be experiencing it, if it is considered to be a disorder, and what scholars have found as treatment options for those experiencing it. 

Is it different from eco-anxiety and ecological grief?

Yes, climate anxiety is different from eco-anxiety and ecological grief because it refers to the emotions that surface due to climate change. The term “eco-anxiety” was coined by Glenn Albrecht, and holds a more expansive definition that describes a chronic fear of environmental doom. This could be fear or anxiousness related to biodiversity decline, water scarcity, ocean acidification, etc. On the other hand, ecological grief is described as “mourning of the loss of ecosystems, landscapes, species and ways of life” due to the long-term impacts of climate change.

Who might be experiencing it?

This heightened worry about the climate crisis has been studied across the world and found in many geographical regions. Clayton (2020) provides an overview of many surveys and national studies on the prevalence of anxiety and worry around climate change. The following four national statistics were sourced from her paper. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 51% of the 2,017 Americans surveyed described climate change as “a somewhat or significant source of stress” (American Psychological Association, 2020). Minor and others (2019) found that 39% of 646 Greenland residents reported feeling either a “moderately” or a “very strong” fear of climate change. Gibson and colleagues (2020) found that 95% of 100 Tuvaluans reported feeling distressed by climate change. Steentjes and others (2017) found that an average of 30% of approximately 4,000 Europeans interviewed reported feeling “very worried” about climate change. 

A study in Canada was recently conducted among young Canadians aged 16 to 25 and found similar results where “at least 56% of 1,000 respondents surveyed reported feeling afraid, sad, anxious, and powerless. 78% reported that climate change impacts their overall mental health and 37% reported that their feelings about climate change negatively impact daily functioning.” (Galway and Field, 2023) 

While studies worldwide have highlighted the prevalence of climate anxiety across the globe, scholars have found an increased prevalence of worrying among youth and those concerned about environmental issues. Notably, worrying was not the only emotion triggered by thoughts of climate change impacts. Emotions such as guilt, anxiety, depression, fear, shame, and hope have also been reported alongside worrying about climate change (Clayton, 2020; Hickman et al., 2021). 

Is it a disorder?

Does a name like “climate anxiety” refer to a new type of disorder? Well, scholars have mixed perceptions about this. Some believe the climate crisis is significant, and therefore feeling some degree of worrying about the impact of climate change is rational. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook used by many healthcare professionals worldwide as a guide to diagnosing mental disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2023), has yet to define climate anxiety as an official disorder. Some scholars argue it should remain that way because again, a fair degree of worrying about the climate crisis is seen as a rational response to the crisis at hand. 

What are some avenues to work through these feelings?

It is common to hear that taking climate action is a way to overcome climate anxiety, however, this route may not be as effective for everyone. While an overview of climate anxiety treatments was hard to source, scholars Baudon and Jachens (2021) conducted a scoping review on treatments for those experiencing eco-anxiety.  They shared the following major themes to empower individuals who are experiencing climate-related anxiety:

1. Foster inner resilience: This theme of interventions provides suggestions that enable those suffering from eco-anxiety to reframe, feel, and make deep meaning out of their distress. 

2. Build social connections and support groups: This theme of interventions encourages participation in supportive groups that are eco-anxiety-informed and specifically intent on supporting the emotional process of individuals suffering from eco-anxiety. 

3. Connect with nature: This theme of interventions encourages connecting with nature as a space of reflection, resourcing, and inspiration. 

Where can I learn more about climate anxiety?

1.  Tune in to a Podcast.  We liked this one: Speaking of Psychology: How to cope with climate anxiety https://spotify.link/J6xooovSAB or How to cope with climate anxiety 

2.  Take a free self-paced course sponsored by the UN

https://unccelearn.org/courses/?language=en&thematicarea=climatechange 

3. Find out how to participate in a local, in-person Climate  Change Workshop:  https://climatefresk.org/

You are not alone. To get help with severe anxiety, reach out to your medical provider to explore the best options to support your health and wellness.

Some YellowYellow team members experience climate anxiety.  This is why we are taking action to reduce our personal carbon footprint. It’s also why we are passionate about partnering with organizations looking to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us: hello@yellowyellow.ca   

Citations

American Psychiatric Association. (2023). Frequently Asked Questions. American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm/frequently-asked- questions#te American Psychological Association. (2020). 

The majority of US adults believe climate change is the most important issue today. Https://Www.Apa.Org. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/02/climate-change Baudon, P., & Jachens, L. (2021). 

A Scoping Review of Interventions for the Treatment of Eco-Anxiety. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(18), 9636. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189636 Clayton, S. (2020). 

Climate anxiety: Psychological responses to climate change. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 74, 102263. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102263 Clayton, S., & Karazsia, B. T. (2020). 

Development and validation of a measure of climate change anxiety. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 69, 101434. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2020.101434 Comtesse, H., Ertl, V., Hengst, S. M. C., Rosner, R., & Smid, G. E. (2021). 

Ecological Grief as a Response to Environmental Change: A Mental Health Risk or Functional Response? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(2), 734. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18020734 Crandon, T. J., Scott, J. G., Charlson, F. J., & Thomas, H. J. (2022). 

A social–ecological perspective on climate anxiety in children and adolescents. Nature Climate Change, 12(2), 123–131. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01251-y Cunsolo, A., & Ellis, N. R. (2018). 

Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Climate Change, 8(4), 275–281. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558- 018-0092-2 Galway, L. P., & Field, E. (2023). 

Climate emotions and anxiety among young people in Canada: A national survey and call to action. The Journal of Climate Change and Health, 9, 100204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joclim.2023.100204 Gibson, K. E., Barnett, J., Haslam, N., & Kaplan, I. (2020). 

The mental health impacts of climate change: Findings from a Pacific Island atoll nation. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 73, 102237. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102237 Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mayall, E. E., Wray, B., Mellor, C., & van Susteren, L. (2021). 

Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health, 5(12), e863–e873. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00278-3 Minor, K., Agneman, G., Davidsen, N., Kleemann, N., Markussen, U., Olsen, A., et al. (2019). 

Greenlandic perspectives on climate change 2018-2019 results from a national survey. University of Greenland and University of Copenhagen. Kraks Fond Institute for Urban Research. Pihkala, P. (2020). 

Anxiety and the Ecological Crisis: An Analysis of Eco-Anxiety and Climate Anxiety. Sustainability, 12(19), 7836. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12197836 Searle, K., & Gow, K. (2010). 

Do concerns about climate change lead to distress? International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, 2(4), 362–379. https://doi.org/10.1108/17568691011089891 Steentjes, K., Pidgeon, N., Poortinga, W., Corner, A., Arnold, A., Böhm, G., Mays, C., Poumadère, M., Ruddat, M., Scheer, D., Sonnberger, M., Tvinnereim, E. (2017). 

European Perceptions of Climate Change: Topline findings of a survey conducted in four European countries in 2016. Cardiff: Cardiff University

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He is pursuing his Ph.D. in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, where he is researching the development of carbon capture techniques and their applications to the mining industry.  Jonathan is focused on helping companies to minimize their carbon footprint while supporting their economic growth.   

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