If you’re deeply concerned about the state of the planet — to the point that your anxieties are affecting your life or relationships — you have plenty of company.
Others have described it as mental distress or anxiety that is experienced in response to the ecological crisis.”
“Eco-anxiety can be mild or more severe,” says Caroline Hickman, PhD, a lecturer and eco-anxiety researcher at the University of Bath in England.
Hickman has experience helping people cope with all forms of eco-anxiety. She and others say there are several helpful ways to lessen the burden of climate-related distress so that people can move forward with their lives and contribute in a positive way to the fight against climate change. Here are some tips.
1. Don’t Try to Deny or Suppress Your Emotions
When it comes to anxiety disorders, a person’s fear or worry is often far greater than the actual threat. Therapy for these conditions involves trying to “reframe” the anxiety so that it’s brought down to its proper size. But when it comes to eco-anxiety, these rules don’t really apply.
“In other types of anxiety, the anxiety response is seen as disproportionate to the situation,” says Liza Jachens, PhD, a psychologist and lecturer at Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland. “But for eco-anxiety, it may be argued to be a normal and rational response to a real climate emergency.”
Hickman agrees. “We’re not going to reduce a person’s anxiety by telling them this isn’t terrifying, because that’s a lie,” she says.
Rather than attempt to minimize someone’s feelings or concerns, she says it’s more helpful to embrace these emotions in a way that makes them more tolerable and less disruptive. “Mindfulness is brilliant for this,” she says. “It’s about learning to live and tolerate and accept what you’re feeling so you can move forward in a positive way.”
2. Take Action
Anxiety is often closely wrapped up with feelings of uncertainty or a lack of control. Getting involved in the fight against climate change is a great way to alleviate these emotions. “Many people find it helpful to take action — to be a part of the change that needs to happen,” Dr. Jachens adds.
Hickman endorses this advice. “Don’t just passively accept the situation,” she says. “Channeling anxiety into action can have a transformational effect.”
Getting involved could mean becoming politically active, or volunteering in local efforts to combat climate change. You could also find work with nonprofits who are working against global warming. Any of these endeavors could be helpful in removing the feelings of helplessness that fuel eco-anxiety, she says.
3. Find the Right Professional Help
“There are many types of therapy that could be useful, but it is important to identify a therapist who has some experience in treating eco-anxiety,” Jachens says. “It is a newly emerging mental health issue, and the literature is scarce on what treatments work best.”
Professionals who have developed expertise in helping people cope with these issues sometimes refer to themselves as being “climate-aware,” says Panu Pihkala, PhD, an adjunct professor of environmental theology at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
The Climate Psychology Alliance is an organization dedicated to addressing the psychological aspects of the climate emergency. The organization’s website has several resources for individuals looking for support, available virtually or via other means globally.
It may also be helpful to Google “climate aware” when looking for a therapist in your area.
4. Connect With Others Who Share Your Concerns
Interacting with like-minded people — people like you who are deeply upset about climate change or human inaction — can reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation, which can be therapeutic, Jachens says.
Others second this advice. “You’re not alone,” Dr. Pihkala says. “Don’t remain alone.” Online or in-person meetups, sometimes called “climate cafes,” can be helpful. Check out the Climate Psychology Alliance’s Climate Café Online list to locate a gathering you can take part in.
5. Spend Time in Nature
Getting out and being with the thing you’re worried about — that is, the natural world — can also be therapeutic. “Interventions focused on connecting with nature are helpful in the healing process,” Jachens says.
The big takeaway here is that there are ways to manage your eco-anxiety, and also to channel it in positive directions. “Out of trauma there’s this transformational possibility, where you live your life more fully and you don’t passively accept the situation,” Hickman says.