by Rae Datt, KTB Spring 2023 Program Intern
Climate anxiety (or eco-anxiety) is a newly recognized phenomenon where one experiences nervousness or fear about the consequences of climate change and feels hopelessness about the long-term sustainability of Earth. The increased access to information pertaining to the issue via social media, and the ease at which one can consume climate change-related content can have problematic effects on mental health.
As users fall into media rabbit holes and are constantly exposed to the ‘doom and gloom’ nature in which climate change is portrayed in the media, a tool that was once used to incite positive changes becomes an echo chamber of helplessness and despair. Reframing how we deal with the feelings that arise from consuming climate change content and helping them to understand their role in the issue is key in addressing eco-anxiety.
What is climate anxiety?
Anxiety is a common experience that typically arises from perceived threats. Eco-anxiety differs in that the perceived threat of climate change is very real. This makes traditional approaches to managing anxiety inefficient as the root cause is more complex than usual.
Causes & Symptoms
The drivers behind most people’s climate anxiety are usually fueled by personal experiences and overconsumption of climate change-related content. Enduring the consequences of climate change first-hand can amplify symptoms. Additionally, constant exposure to climate change media can worsen symptoms.
These symptoms can include anger, frustration, guilt, shame, fatalistic thinking, grief, and obsessive thoughts. Some may also experience physical symptoms in addition to the psychological symptoms, such as changes in appetite and sleep, as well as difficulty concentrating.
Tips to address climate anxiety
Now… How do we address the issue?! The first recommendation would be to reevaluate your social media usage. You can start this by fact-checking what you see to avoid consuming misinformation and staying away from echo chambers and “doom-scrolling.”. You should take breaks when you begin feeling overwhelmed with what you are seeing on social media and news outlets.
The second recommendation would be to practice efficacy. Efficacy is the ability to produce a desired or intended “result” and the result here would be mitigating climate change. The primary example of this would be voting and staying politically active. Because engaging with the issue rather than practicing avoidance yields more effective progress in reducing eco-anxiety, using your voting privileges to push policies and laws that favor the environment can alleviate eco-anxiety symptoms.
”Because engaging with the issue rather than practicing avoidance yields more effective progress in reducing eco-anxiety, using your voting privileges to push policies and laws that favor the environment can alleviate eco-anxiety symptoms.
Other steps you can make to address climate anxiety include changing behaviors. For example, instead of driving, choose to walk or use public transit when you can. You can also modify your diet to try to consume fewer red meats and foods with high carbon footprints. In tandem with this change, when it comes to disposing of waste, you can make an effort to recycle and compost. Lastly, a simple alteration you can make is adjusting your thermostat to 73°F in the summer & 67°F in the winter. By making at least one of these simple lifestyle changes, you can help the environment while also addressing the symptoms of eco-anxiety.
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Maran, Daniela A. Begotti, Tatiana. “Media Exposure to Climate Change, Anxiety, and Efficacy Beliefs in a Sample of Italian University Students.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Sep 4;18(17):9358. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8431103/
Sanson, Ann V. “Responding to the Impacts of the Climate Crisis on Children and Youth.” Wiley Online Library, 2022 Society for Research in Child Development, 30 Sept. 2019, https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cdep.12342.