Being exposed to negative news about the state of our planet can impact how we go through our everyday life. As the media covers climate change and its consequences, it can arouse feelings of despair and helplessness. This rising phenomenon is called eco-anxiety.
Eco-anxiety is defined as the fear of global climate change or environmental doom. Environmental issues, such as food insecurity, global warming, and rising sea levels affect people’s thoughts and actions.
Every day, we face problems like access to clean water, pollution, and plastic waste. It can be scary to think about what kind of planet we will leave behind for future generations. Because of this issue, mental health professionals have developed better coping strategies for this specific anxiety.
The Psychological Impact Of Climate Change
Increased human activity and industrialization have led to rapid consumption of fossil fuels, increasing greenhouse gasses, and deforestation. It was only in the 1970s that scientists linked this human activity to the decline of our environment.
As the years went on, more ominous signs of abrupt changes in our climate began to bear their consequences. Scientists predict that by 2030, we could be suffering severe and irreversible impacts of climate change.
We are now facing the catastrophic consequences of climate change. The worldwide increase in average temperatures has been directly correlated with the increase of hurricanes and heatwaves. These extreme weather events have brought more disaster risks to vulnerable countries and communities.
Because of this, many countries have suffered a collective trauma from natural disasters. It has cost people their homes and livelihoods. And so, it’s not surprising that the populations exposed to disastrous events are at risk for mental health issues. This can be caused by their reactions to extreme events, the loss of lives, decimated resources, and lack of support.
Some might argue that eco-anxiety is a good kind of panic, as it makes us more aware of how devastating climate change truly is. Because of the impending sense of doom, we act with more urgency to address environmental problems. Meanwhile, others believe that because we are aware of the effects of our actions, we’re more motivated to make better choices for planet Earth.
But just like any other medical diagnosis, eco-anxiety is a form of anxiety that has debilitating effects on people and their ability to perform daily tasks. While being aware of the consequences of climate change is good, being hyperaware to the point of eco-anxiety can get in the way of how we manage our daily lives. We become paralyzed and anxious about the uncertainty of the future.
Communities At Risk
It’s important to recognize who is most affected by climate change. While climate change can affect us all, marginalized communities suffer the most. These sectors of our community are the most vulnerable to disaster risks.
On average, black people are more likely to suffer from air pollution than white people. Urban communities are forced into areas that don’t follow health protocols, especially low-income neighborhoods.
Because marginalized communities struggle with many barriers, their resources become limited. Indigenous communities have also suffered the brunt of climate change because of large-scale deforestation, costing them their heritage and identity.
It’s tragic to watch the world rapidly declining, and because of rising sea levels, some cities may not even be on the map by 2050. With all these in mind, it’s unsurprising that many suffer from eco-anxiety.
Who Can Suffer From Eco-Anxiety?
It is natural for us to feel a sense of guilt when thinking about our environment’s issues. It is the case that human activity is responsible for this. However, the truth is that large corporations are the major contributors to global warming. But as individuals, we can feel like the weight is on our shoulders. How can we even think of undoing years of collective ecological damage?
While many people worry about ongoing climate issues, some people are severely affected by a pre-existing anxiety condition. Their fears are further exacerbated by the uncertainty of global climate change that could harm their loved ones.
The impact of climate change can manifest in our mental health through:
- intrusive thoughts
- feelings of helplessness
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
When we think about how big the planet is and the irreversible damage we have caused through years of neglect and ignorance, we can feel small and powerless.
Seeing A Therapist
Eco-anxiety is on the rise as our planet continues to suffer more from ecological damage. Because an anxiety disorder characterizes symptoms of eco-anxiety, a proper mental health professional can provide you with all the resources you need to help you cope.
Seeing a therapist will help you voice out your problems in a neutral environment. Your therapist will help guide you through the steps toward understanding your thoughts and behaviors. Together, you can pinpoint areas you feel particularly anxious about and create proactive plans to address intrusive thoughts. Through this, you can better cope and function.
Some coping strategies will include taking positive action, such as:
- being more involved with your community
- participating in environmental activism
- switching to a more sustainable lifestyle
Having a sense of responsibility for what you can control will help you significantly. These positive actions will help you feel more empowered to make conscious changes in your lifestyle. It will also benefit you by being in a community of people who share the same sentiments over climate change.
Detaching yourself from negative media is also a good coping strategy. Frequent exposure to tragic news does harm to your mental health more than you realize. Furthermore, mindful-based approaches can help you deal with intense emotions associated with the environment.
Your therapist’s goal is not to make you care any less about the environment but to tackle these issues with a more meaningful approach. This can help you better yourself and your community.
When you decide to seek a therapist for help, you are healing yourself and your community. You are acknowledging that you need help sorting through your thoughts and thinking of ways to move forward. When you and your therapist have mapped out a proactive plan of action, you move from feeling powerless to empowered. And remember that your changes, no matter how small, can positively impact your community and the planet.