Home >> Resources >> Articles >>
Climate Anxiety: Raising Awareness
Climate Anxiety: Raising Awareness
Climate anxiety, or anxiety caused by concern for the effects of climate change, was named the “biggest pop culture trend of 2019” by Grist magazine. Although some may be sceptical of its existence, climate anxiety is real, and it’s having a big impact on the young people of today.
With increased media coverage of events such as the United Nations COP26 summit and Extinction Rebellion protests, young people have been called to arms against global warming by inspiring young activists like Greta Thunberg. With increasing concern for the future, young people are frustrated and are demanding positive action against climate change. So, what is climate anxiety? How is it impacting mental health? And what can we do to support young people as they navigate an uncertain future?
What is climate anxiety?
Climate, or eco-anxiety, is anxiety caused by the perception of climate change. Ranging from a fear of losing homes to an existential concern for the future, climate anxiety can affect anyone who has an awareness of climate change. However, it seems to be particularly prevalent in young people.
When the Lancet surveyed 10,000 young people (aged 16-25) across the globe, 100% said they were worried about climate change, with 45% reporting that climate anxiety is having a negative impact on their daily life and functioning. Feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty, young people are incredibly worried about the future.
Perhaps they should be. Climate anxiety is not an unreasonable response to climate change. It may even be necessary to enact movement towards climate positive measures. However, when the anxiety becomes all-encompassing and is significantly impacting day-to-day life, measures should be put in place to manage the negative consequences.
Climate anxiety and mental health
Climate change is having both direct and indirect effects on young people’s mental health. While increased natural disasters (e.g., wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, heatwaves) can be directly associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and/or substance abuse, the uncertainties associated with climate change may also interfere with a young person’s sense of security and purpose.
Someone experiencing climate anxiety may feel worried, nervous, or scared for the future. They may also experience low mood related to feelings of hopelessness and/or powerlessness. While these difficulties can develop into a disorder, in most cases, they can be managed at home:
If you’re a parent/carer:
- Validate the young person’s feelings. Climate change is scary and unpredictable. Avoid reassuring a young person that “everything is going to be ok” … the truth is, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Instead, validate their feelings, acknowledging that climate change is a real threat, and it makes sense to be concerned, but they are not alone. Once validated, help them to gain perspective and ensure they have accurate information about the likely effects of climate change. For example, “Bristol will probably see more rain and hotter summers” is more precise and less scary than “the world is going to burn up and we’re all going to die”.
- Empower young people to get involved with climate conscious activities. Whether that’s planting a vegetable patch, volunteering for charity, or litter picking in a local park, engaging in positive climate action will boost mood, motivation, and sense of purpose.
If you’re a young person:
- Spend time in nature. Multiple studies have shown that nature positively impacts mood and mental health. As well as boosting mental and physical wellbeing, connecting with nature is a great way to stay motivated and hopeful. If you want to do this with others, why not join a local group of young people?
- Stay active. Exercise is a powerful tool for reducing stress and anxiety and has been shown to lower the risk of depression.
- Keep a thought diary to record any negative thoughts and feelings. What triggered those thoughts? Are they real worries that you can deal with or imagined worries that are out of your control? Take these thoughts to court and assess the evidence for whether they are worth focussing on or not.
- Try grounding and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to reduce anxiety. Off the Record have provided several techniques you could try.
- Talk about your concerns with parents and peers. Many people around you are also worried about climate change and talking about it can help you to feel less alone in your concerns. Anxiety is a rational response to climate change. However, whether due to a fear of uncertainty, or predicting the worst, it’s easy for the negative thoughts and feelings to become unbearable. While we can’t predict the future, we can help safeguard our mental health against it by raising awareness and supporting each other to reconnect with ourselves and the world around us.
- Visit the BBC Children in Need website for useful links, information, and programmes about climate change and managing climate anxiety (suitable for young children).
- Watch David Attenborough’s documentary about climate change, and what we can do about it.
- Read about this young person’s experience with climate anxiety, with suggestions on how to cope with the negative emotions.
- Listen to a young person describing what it’s like to navigate youth at a time of climate change.
- Listen to Verity Sharp and Caroline Hickman as they discuss eco-anxiety and whether it should be reinvented as eco-empathy.
- Free support and information can be accessed at Off the Record (Bristol and South Gloucestershire).
Article date 26th September 2022
Article written by Imogen Clifford, Assistant Psychologist, Bristol CBT Clinic