Climate anxiety: 6 Psychiatrist-backed tips to cope
Reading about climate change predictions or living through extreme weather events can create uncomfortable uncertainty for many of us. In fact, stress and worry about the climate is so common there is even a term for it: climate anxiety or eco-anxiety.
Climate anxiety is an expected and even healthy response to the very real threat that is climate change, but that doesn’t mean you need to live with it on a daily basis. There are actions you can take to cope with climate anxiety.
Learn about the impact of climate change on mental health, psychiatrist-backed tips for coping with climate anxiety, and how to know when the symptoms you’re feeling might be something more than climate anxiety.
Recognizing climate anxiety: Symptoms and effects
Climate or ‘eco-anxiety’ refers to heightened emotional, mental, or physical distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate. It isn’t a mental health condition, but the effects of climate anxiety are felt by many people—particularly young people, those who respond to climate-related natural disasters, and climate scientists and activists.
Some common symptoms of climate anxiety include:
- Panic attacks
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness and sleeplessness
Many people also describe feelings of:
- Grief, despair, guilt, and shame
Climate anxiety vs. generalized anxiety disorder
If you’re experiencing constant worry and distress about the environment, you may be wondering if you have an anxiety disorder.
The anxiety or stress caused by climate change is expected and therefore in and of itself isn’t considered an anxiety disorder. But if your concerns about the climate are causing you to feel distressed, hopeless, or anxious to the point where it's hard to function in your daily life, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support. A therapist, psychiatrist, or primary care doctor are great places to start.
Unlike climate or eco-anxiety, an anxiety disorder occurs when worrying starts to negatively impact your daily life, is out of proportion to the stress at hand, and is long-term. If you’re already living with an anxiety disorder, you may be more likely to feel anxious about the threat of climate change.
Learn more about anxiety disorders and how they are treated.
How does climate anxiety affect people?
You may feel alone in your anxiety about climate change, which can make your anxiety worse. But based on a 2021 survey of 10,000 people ages 16 to 25, it’s clear that for most young people, climate change negatively impacts their mental health and well-being.
More than 45% of people surveyed said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning and 75% said they think the future is frightening. A 2020 survey found that over 68% of adults said they felt at least a little “eco-anxiety” or climate anxiety.
Bottom line: Most people are stressed about the environment and experience some level of climate anxiety.
Mental health impacts of climate change
If you’ve lived through an extreme weather event, or know someone who has, you know that it can take a toll on your mental health. And these effects aren’t just short-term.
Air pollution, which is worsened by fossil fuels, and wildfire events, has been shown to increase the risk of depression, suicide, ADHD and autism in children, and neurological diseases like Parkinson's.
Exposure to extreme heat is also potentially linked to an increase in the use of alcohol to cope with stress, suicide, and hospital and emergency room visits for people with mental health conditions.
Droughts are associated with an increase in suicide risk, especially among farmers who may experience negative economic impacts. A 2018 study suggested that there may be as many as 40,000 additional suicides in the US and Mexico by 2050 due to warming temperatures.
Is climate anxiety bad?
You may be surprised to learn that climate anxiety isn’t actually a ‘bad’ thing (although it definitely doesn’t feel good to experience it). It’s healthy to care about the environment, the planet, and the well-being of other people and climate change is a very real threat. So, while it’s tempting to try and ignore your anxiety or pretend climate change isn’t happening as a way to cope, there are ways to reframe your anxious thoughts so that you feel less stressed about climate change and more empowered to fight it.
How do you treat climate anxiety? 6 tips to cope
Climate anxiety can be hard to live with, but the good news is, there are things you can do to help manage it. And that doesn’t mean willing away your climate anxiety or accepting the fate of the environment as something that’s out of your hands. Acknowledging what is happening is actually a healthier response than denial or apathy. Here are some additional psychiatrist-backed tips to cope with climate anxiety.
1. Take individual action
This may seem daunting, especially if you’re feeling hopeless about the future or that your individual actions don’t matter. In reality, experts agree that individual actions can make a difference. Reducing your consumption of meat, getting a heat pump or insulating your home, choosing energy-efficient ways to travel like by bike, walking, public transportation, or electric or hybrid vehicle, purchasing less, and reducing your food waste are just a few of the ways you can help slow the threat of global warming. Feeling empowered about fighting climate change can help you feel less anxious about the future of the planet.
2. Connect with supportive communities
Social support can help ease your eco-anxiety and the feelings of isolation that come along with it. It helps to know that other people care as much as you do! 66% of Americans say are worried about global warming but the majority of Americans say they rarely talk about it with friends and family. Social media can also help you connect with like-minded people and spread awareness. But be cautious about how you use it. If you’re finding it’s making you feel worse, it may be a good idea to find a different way to connect with others.
Need help finding a support group or network? Check out: The Good Grief Group
3. Avoid doom scrolling
It’s important to stay informed about the environment and environmental-related news, but it can be helpful to set limits on how much you are consuming. If you’re filled with dread every time you read an article about a weather event or environmental development, look for something positive. Read about things you can do to fight against climate change or search for ‘positive climate news’— we promise it’s out there!
4. Practice Self-Compassion
Be kind to yourself. Climate change is a complex issue, and it's normal to feel overwhelmed or even guilty that you’re not doing enough. Acknowledge your feelings without judgment. Starting meditation, journaling, or gratitude practice can help you cope with negative thoughts.
5. Get moving
You probably already know that regular physical activity can help reduce stress and anxiety and promote overall well-being. But did you know the mental health benefits of exercise can be seen with as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day? An extra bonus:- take your exercise outdoors. Try activities like hiking, walking, taking a bike ride, or even bringing your yoga mat outside.
6. Seek professional help
If the anxiety you’re feeling about the climate is significantly interfering with your daily life, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. They can provide coping strategies tailored to your needs. At the same time, it’s important to treat underlying mental health conditions. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can make it hard to cope with everyday stress.
Anxiety treatment at Talkiatry
Climate anxiety isn’t a mental health condition, it’s actually a healthy and expected response to the very real threat that is climate change. If you’re feeling worried or stressed about the future of the planet—you’re not alone! The majority of Americans feel worried about climate change. There are healthy ways to cope with these feelings, including taking action against climate change, finding a support group, engaging in therapy or another form of professional support, and exercising regularly.
If you’re feeling constant worry, anxiety or hopelessness, our psychiatrists are here for you. Take our free online assessment to see if Talkiatry is right for you.
Dr. Brenda Y. Camacho holds the position of Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. She is board-certified in Adult Psychiatry. She has been practicing for over 25 years.
While having treated a wide range of adult patients, Dr. Camacho’s primary focus is treating adult outpatients with mood or psychotic disorders. Her practice focuses on medication management. Typically, she offers this in conjunction with supportive or insight-oriented therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. On occasion, Dr. Camacho will believe additional therapy is also needed and asks that you bring a therapist into your care team to provide the best outcome.
Dr. Camacho completed her undergraduate studies at Tufts University. She received her medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA and then continued with Temple for her residency in adult psychiatry. After completing training, Dr. Camacho worked at Cooper Hospital in Camden NJ as Associate Director of Consultation/Liaison Service and Psychiatry Residency Training and Co-Director of the Neuropsychiatry Clinic. She then began working exclusively in outpatient settings, joined NewPoint Behavioral Health Care, and served as Medical Director before and after their merge with Acenda Integrated Health.