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Navigating Climate Anxiety

June 2023 by Saaniya Sharma

Photo by Total Shape on Unsplash

In today’s world, we are surrounded by climate change in every facet of our lives, and those working in the climate sector often bear witness to the stark realities and future consequences. Last month, for Mental Health Awareness Week, we surveyed our colleagues to understand their experiences and emotions better when it comes to climate anxiety. The responses they shared shed light on the complexities of working in the climate sector, how to avoid succumbing to climate doomism and how they overcome difficult times.

In this blog, we delve into the stories and experiences of two respondents. The individuals bring two distinct perspectives: one is a Carbon Literacy trainer, while the other is Phil Korbel, Co-founder and Director of Advocacy at The Carbon Literacy Project. Through their narratives, we gain an understanding of the emotional landscape that accompanies their unwavering dedication and resilience.

The survey sought to address two overarching questions – exploring the range of emotions they associate with their work and how they navigate difficult times.

What emotions do you closely associate with, as someone working in the climate sector?

Understanding emotions

“It’s very hard to look out on a sea of despondent and depressed faces,” acknowledges the trainer, emphasising the challenging nature of their training sessions. As a Carbon Literacy trainer, the individual plays a crucial role in educating and empowering others. They understand the difficulties of addressing a challenging subject, preparing themselves mentally to guide their audience through the journey.

Additionally, they recognise the importance of providing warning and support, allowing people to confront the topic. “Every time I teach, I have a hard time keeping people buoyant, but it’s a really important part of my training. Otherwise, you just lose people.”

Confronting ‘The Dooms’

Phil vividly describes the emotional toll of working in the climate sector. He refers to episodes of overwhelming gloom, which he has aptly named ‘an attack of The Dooms’. “Now and again, those barricades fall (coping mechanisms), and one trigger or another leaves me stranded in apocalyptic gloom. It happens frequently enough that I’ve given these times a name – I get an attack of The Dooms.”

Despite the challenges, Phil emphasises the importance of not looking away from the reality we face and developing coping mechanisms. “Looking away is not an escape hatch that we can open for any length of time and, not being emotionally inert, I’ve developed coping mechanisms.”

How do you overcome difficult times?

Both individuals offered insights into their personal journeys and the coping mechanisms they employ to navigate the emotional challenges. Some common themes emerged, including the need to confront the difficult realities of climate change while also seeking support, solace, and resilience.

The trainer acknowledged that it’s better to accept reality and begin to take action than ignore the climate crisis. “I just have to remember that it’s better people are sad for a day and that they make some changes than pretending everything is fine.”

Phil’s experiences reflect the challenges faced by those in leadership positions, where maintaining a sense of hope and motivating others becomes essential. The release valve for him is taking time off to immerse himself in nature, finding peace in creative hobbies, regular exercise, and temporarily disconnecting from the barrage of distressing news. He also emphasised the importance of open conversations and supporting colleagues experiencing similar emotional challenges.

“If you find a colleague afflicted by the Dooms – talk about it, stress they’re not alone… I’d always say take the time out if you feel there’s a danger of burnout – you’re no good to the planet if you do burn out – we’re all in this for the long run.”

“While there are multiple reasons for climate pessimism, we’re only doomed if we stop hoping and stop trying to do our best thing. Every gramme of greenhouse gas we stop from entering the atmosphere is less risk of harm to the people and things we love,” says Phil.

Share your experience 

By sharing stories of individuals working in the climate sector, we hope to foster a greater understanding and empathy for those working to combat the crisis. These experiences provide valuable lessons in resilience and hope. They highlight the importance of acknowledging emotions, providing support, and finding effective coping mechanisms to navigate climate anxiety. By fostering open conversations and implementing self-care practices, individuals in the climate sector can continue their vital work while safeguarding their mental well-being.

For the next installment in the series, we’re delving deeper into the unique journey of a Carbon Literacy trainer and the emotional landscape they navigate.

If you’re a Carbon Literacy trainer, share your experience by participating in the survey here.

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