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Climate Change & Mental Health: Addressing Eco-Anxiety

May 2023 by Saaniya Sharma & Shree Chunekar

In today’s world, it is impossible to ignore the pressing reality of climate change and its far-reaching consequences. Just this week, new research revealed there is now a 66% chance we will pass the 1.5C global warming threshold between now and 2027. As our planet faces an uncertain future, it’s only natural that concern for the environment can lead to feelings of anxiety and distress.

The climate crisis impacts our minds and bodies far more than we realise it or discuss it. The constant barrage of distressing news related to environmental degradation and loss, or the uncertainty surrounding the future, coupled with a sense of hopelessness, can often exacerbate anxiety. This phenomenon is called climate or eco-anxiety. It refers to the chronic fear or distress associated with the climate and ecological crisis.

Climate anxiety has gained attention in recent years as people become more aware of the global crisis, highlighting the crucial intersection between environmental and mental health. A 2021 study across ten countries revealed that 62% of young people feel anxious about climate change. Of the 10,000 respondents, more than 50% conveyed emotions such as – anxiety, anger, sadness, powerlessness, helplessness, and guilt. Another study based in the UK reported that over two-thirds of people of all ages in the UK are suffering from eco-anxiety.

As we observe Mental Health Awareness Week, it is essential to shed light on climate anxiety and its impact on individuals, including those working in the climate change sector. With this year’s theme being anxiety – we surveyed our colleagues at The Carbon Literacy Project to gain a deeper understanding of the experience and emotions of individuals working in the climate sector, and how they address this.

Understanding the Impact: Insights from the Carbon Literacy team

The survey revealed a wide range of emotions associated with the ongoing climate crisis. These emotions, which reflect the complex nature of their experiences, can both motivate and challenge individuals in their efforts to address environmental concerns.

Fear and hopelessness

A prevalent response was a sense of fear and hopelessness. The scale and urgency of the climate crisis can lead to concerns about the future and the well-being of the planet and people. The perceived lack of action and slow progress in policy change contributed to a feeling of despair and a fear of irreversibility.

Anger, disappointment and frustration

These emotional responses arise from witnessing the inaction of governments, industries, and individuals, despite the scientific consensus (such as the IPCC reports) on the urgent need for action. The perception of apathy and prioritising short-term gains over long-term sustainability further fuels these emotions.

Overwhelm and burnout

The complexity and interconnectedness of climate change can lead to a sense of overwhelm and burnout. The demanding nature of the sector, coupled with the emotional weight of the crisis, can contribute to feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and often a loss of motivation.

Passion and determination

Alongside the negative emotions, people also expressed a deep passion for their work and a determination to make a difference. This sense of purpose and commitment stems from a genuine concern for the environment and a desire to create positive change.

The Danger of ‘Climate Doomism’

While it is crucial to acknowledge the gravity of the climate crisis, it is equally important to avoid succumbing to climate doomism. Climate doomism is a prevalent belief that climate change is irreversible, leading to the collapse of the environment.

The constant stream of negative news and the lack of meaningful policy change can contribute to a sense of resignation. This belief that the situation is beyond repair can lead to a lack of motivation to take action and advocate for change.

However, it is essential to remember that the climate crisis is not irreversible. While the challenge is daunting, there is still time to mitigate the impacts of climate change and work towards a sustainable future. Individual actions, coupled with collective efforts, can contribute to positive systemic change and promote resilience.

As our Director of Advocacy, Phil Korbel, says, “We’re only doomed if we stop trying.”

Cultivating Mental Well-being

While the challenges posed by climate change are real, finding a balance between concern for the planet and mental well-being is possible. Here are some ways our team nurtures mental well-being to overcome the above emotions.

Creating supportive networks

Foster communities and networks within the sector to provide support, share experiences, and offer mutual encouragement. Connecting with others who understand the challenges can reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of solidarity. One such example includes climate cafes which are gaining popularity amongst people in the environmental sector.

Practicing self-compassion

Working in the climate change sector can often carry immense responsibility and high expectations. Practising self-compassion is crucial. Acknowledge the efforts made, celebrate small victories, and remember that self-care is essential for sustained activism! Many of our colleagues do this by connecting with nature, practising yoga and meditation.

Cultivating resilience

Recognising that change takes time and that setbacks are part of the journey. Building resilience can help you navigate challenges and bounce back from setbacks. E.g. get involved in local environmental initiatives and support sustainable practices in your community.

Collaborate and advocate for change

The best therapy for climate pessimism is action! Collaborate with like-minded individuals and organisations to amplify impact. Advocating for change collectively can help alleviate feelings of powerlessness and inspire hope.

Seek professional support

If feelings of anxiety or distress become overwhelming, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Therapists, counsellors, or mental health professionals can provide guidance and support tailored to specific challenges.

By recognising and validating the emotions experienced by people working in the sector, we can create a supportive environment that acknowledges the challenges while nurturing hope, collaboration, and positive action. Together, we can transform these emotions into a driving force for change and work towards a sustainable future for all!

The Power of Carbon Literacy!

In the face of the climate crisis, the importance of Carbon Literacy extends beyond environmental awareness — it also holds therapeutic value for individuals grappling with eco-anxiety. It empowers individuals by providing them with knowledge and tools to better comprehend the complexities of climate change. When individuals understand the links between their choices and their carbon footprint, they can make more informed decisions, leading to a sense of purpose, agency, resilience and hope.

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