There are more conversations happening about the environment than ever before. Everywhere we look, there is discourse – and often heated discourse – about the issue. For some, this creates a sense of helplessness against an impending crisis, known as climate anxiety.
What is climate anxiety?
Climate anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that manifests when an individual finds themself consumed by their reactions to climate change. It’s very common to worry about the environment and the health of our Earth. However, when these concerns become all-consuming and start to impact other areas of life, it may be climate anxiety. Some people find it hard to focus while at work or to stay present when talking with a friend. Others develop a sense of despair or impending doom when thinking about climate issues.
Climate change communicates to us that in the future, we might not be safe, even in our own homes. This is quite distressing for many people, even if that day is decades away. For many young people, it also leads to an existential dread for the future and a sense of hopelessness.
Symptoms of climate anxiety
Similar to other types of anxiety, climate anxiety looks differently for each person. Some common emotions that show up with climate anxiety include:
When felt strongly or for long periods of time, these emotions may lead to a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Individuals with climate anxiety may also experience physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, stomachaches, tight muscles, dizziness, nausea, digestive issues, and more. They may have difficulty focusing or remembering information. These symptoms may negatively impact a person’s daily life.
Social justice and climate anxiety
One of the reasons why climate anxiety exists – and impacts people so strongly – are the social injustice undertones that accompany each natural disaster, policy, or public discourse topic. Many of the communities most impacted by climate change are people of color. These communities tend to be lower in socioeconomic status and have fewer resources to combat the warming climate. Inherent in the issue, therefore, is oppression. For those who advocate against power imbalances across different groups of people, climate change can be a jarring and difficult topic to discuss – or to hear about on the news regularly.
Therapy for climate anxiety
Therapists who specialize in treating climate anxiety are often called ecotherapists. Ecotherapists understand the current conversations and events surrounding climate change. They have experience piecing together mental health symptoms and concerns over the environment, giving clients the language they need to talk about their worry.
Sometimes, ecotherapists will incorporate nature therapy into their practice. This could look like holding sessions in the woods or another outdoor location. They might encourage their clients to engage regularly with nature through hiking, swimming, and practicing mindfulness outside. Their goal is to help their clients process through the difficult and complex emotions that come from climate anxiety and to give them the tools they need to feel in control of their emotions.