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Navigating Climate Anxiety: Insights from CL Trainers

August 2023 by Saaniya Sharma & Shree Chunekar

“Climate change is a very complex topic that is not just about data, information and physics, it’s about culture, politics and psychological responses,” said climate change author Jeff Goodell in a recent interview with the Guardian.

In a world gripped by the ever-pressing challenges of climate change, individuals working in the climate sector often carry the weight of both knowledge and responsibility. The intersection of mental health and climate change is critical, especially for those spearheading climate education efforts.

As a part of our ongoing Climate Change & Mental Health series, we surveyed and gathered insights from those who educate and empower others about climate change – Carbon Literacy trainers. For trainers, the anxiety they experience is often twofold. First, they grapple with their own emotional responses to climate change and its implications. Second, they are responsible for guiding the trainees through their journeys as they absorb the information and understand the scale of the crisis. As a result, trainers need to balance the realities of the science while offering hope and practical steps for action.

In this blog, we shed light on the experiences of CL trainers, the emotions they encounter among learners and the strategies they employ to navigate the complex landscape of climate anxiety.

Unravelling emotions

From anxiety to hope

The path of climate education isn’t just a transfer of knowledge — it’s a transformative journey. Trainees learning about climate change exhibit a range of emotions, reflecting the complexity of the topic. From anxiety and concern to hope and optimism, the emotional spectrum is vast. A trainer noted, “At the start of the training, they (learners) feel concerned, worried, anxious, angry, hopeless. By the end, they feel motivated, informed, hopeful, engaged and ready to act.” This emotional rollercoaster highlights the profound impact that climate education can have on individuals, shaping not only their understanding but also their feelings towards the issue.

Trainers often find themselves resonating with the emotions of their learners as they witness the struggles and epiphanies that arise during the training. Some trainers expressed feelings ranging from stress, anxiety and hopelessness, while others said they found solace in positive actions and moments of empowerment.

One trainer explained the mixed emotions that teaching about climate change can evoke. On one hand, a sense of hope is sparked by empowering others with the knowledge and belief that society can still make a difference. Yet, there’s also a sense of hopelessness stemming from the awareness of the vastness of the challenge and the lack of governmental action. “It can feel both hopeful and hopeless in one go…it still feels like such a small drop in such a large ocean directed by a lack of governmental action and policy to implement the changes we need.”

Another trainer described feeling “anxious and fearful for what the future looks like, but a sense of strength and motivation to get the job done and tackle climate change.” Their ability to relate to the learners’ emotional journeys equips them to provide information and encouragement needed to take climate action.

Fostering hope and resilience

CL trainers play a pivotal role in cultivating hope and transforming that into positive action. A trainer mentioned, “It feels like it’s part of my job to help people restore elements of hope.” For trainers, a sense of fulfilment and validation stems from witnessing positive transformations in their learners. The journey from negativity to hope and despair to positivity represents a remarkable shift in perspective. As one trainer said, “It makes me feel valued when I see I’m able to help others move from negative emotions to more positive ones.”

Overcoming climate anxiety

A practical approach was shared by a trainer who finds value in starting and ending training sessions with emotional sharing. “It’s very effective to get individuals to share how they feel at the start and the end of training sessions. I use Mentimeter to do this so people can share anonymously but collaboratively.” This simple practice allows for the collective processing of emotions.

Additionally, sharing experiences among colleagues and friends also serves as a great coping mechanism. The understanding of peers who share similar experiences becomes a source of strength. One trainer said, “I share my experiences with my peers all the time – I have many friends working in sustainability who can relate to what I’m feeling and what my Carbon Literacy trainees might be going through, too.”

Empowering through emotional connection

Carbon Literacy training goes beyond merely disseminating information about climate change. It creates a platform for participants to voice their concerns, anxieties and hopes. These emotional connections then transform into tangible actions. The training sessions transcend theoretical understanding to actionable change by engaging learners to make pledges. As a result, learners leave with a renewed sense of agency, believing their individual and group actions can collectively contribute to a larger positive shift.

Want to channel your climate anxiety into guiding others to action? Consider becoming a Carbon Literacy trainer.

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