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Are you stressed out about climate changes? Experts discuss eco anxiety and tools to combat it | News | San Luis Obispo

Are you stressed out about climate changes? Experts discuss eco anxiety and tools to combat it | News | San Luis Obispo

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Do you feel a crippling anxiety or depression over climate change and what it means in the future?

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You are not alone. Recent studies show that climate change is having a major—and growing—impact on not just the environment in fires, drought, and rising sea levels, but on people’s mental health.

According to a 2020 poll by the American Psychological Association (APA), 68 percent of respondents said climate change is affecting their mental health—a 21-percentage-point increase in that response from the same poll the prior year.

According to Jill Bolster-White who is the executive director at Transitions-Mental Health Association in San Luis Obispo, “Eco Anxiety” has grown so much that now the APA considers it a “significant mental health problem.”

Bolster-White spoke at a Jan. 19, webinar co-hosted jointly by TMHA/Sierra Club titled “Mental Health & Climate Crisis.”

During the two-hour-long panel discussion, more than 10 speakers—from environmental activists to mental health professionals—shared their perspectives on the troubling trend and what people can do about it.

According to Megan Werner (a senior at Cal Poly and a transitional age health navigator at TMHA), eco anxiety can be described as “a chronic fear or environmental doom” and can manifest in the form of generalized anxiety.

“An example would be: “What’s it worth having kids?” During her presentation, Werner stated.

Werner said that eco anxiety is associated with higher aggression and violence rates, increased feelings and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and fatalism, as well as intense feelings of loss.

She stated that “these symptoms often reach high levels and require clinical intervention which further overwhelms our already overwhelmed mental healthcare system.”

Statistics and polls show that eco anxiety is affecting people of all races and ethnicities. But there’s at least one notable demographic disparity—age. Werner stated that eco anxiety is most difficult for those aged 34 and younger right now.

This phenomenon is evident in SLO County. Julia Richardson, a supervisor at SLO County Behavioral Health, stated that she has noticed more acute eco anxiety-type symptoms among the young patients she treats at her Arroyo Grande facility.

Click to enlarge
RISING WATERS Climate change is causing increasing levels of anxiety in people. A 2020 poll found that two-thirds of Americans were anxious about the crisis. Pictured here: king tides in Pismo Beach, an annual phenomenon that shows what a climate change-impacted ocean would look like. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE KING TIDES PROJECT

  • File Photo Courtesy Of The King Tides Project
  • RISING WATERS People are becoming more anxious about climate change. A 2020 poll revealed that two-thirds (63%) of Americans are anxious about the crisis. Pictured here are king tides at Pismo Beach, an annual phenomenon which shows how a climate-change-impacted ocean might look.

“I’m seeing more and more of I guess what we call Gen Z—born in the late ’90s and [through]Richardson stated that 2010 was his goal. Richardson stated that Gen Z, the young people, believes and thinks: “Why bother?” Why have children? I’m not sure if there’s anything that’s going to be available for me. This creates a lot negativity and hopelessness, and not a lot motivation to move forward.

Richardson explained how these emotions and attitudes can “change your brain” if not addressed.

She stated that “how we think, how our feelings, it literally changes brain pattern…to a high state of arousal for fear, worry, or anxiety.”

It can be difficult for eco anxiety to be overcome. However, the panelists offered many tips and tricks to feel more hopeful and empowered about what the future holds while still being grounded in the present.

The first tip is to not deny that climate change has occurred.

Werner stated, “Allow yourself to be grieving.” “Loss will always happen and it’s already happening.” Accept this loss and allow yourself time to grieve. But, don’t let it overwhelm you.

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Another tip was to combat isolation. Connect with others who feel the same way about the climate crisis. Next, you can turn your anxiety and depression into action.

Werner stated, “This could be through… advocacy groups, perhaps doing beach cleanups or reducing your car’s usage and thus your environmental footprint.” She said that you can also take actions in your own life by recycling, composting or being mindful consumers or voting for climate-conscious leaders at a ballot box.

Charles Varni, an activist for the Surfrider Foundation recommended these steps and also stressed self-forgiveness.

Varni stated that it is difficult to live in a sustainable manner in today’s world. Varni said that having too high expectations or a all-or-nothing attitude can sometimes hinder action and lead to more discouragement.

“There is a lot guilt-tripping and perfectionist around. Are you doing enough in your everyday life to save the Earth?” Varni said. Varni said. I encourage people to celebrate the good things you have done and acknowledge them. I encourage people to reject perfectionistic expectations.

Nearly all panelists have one final tip for eco-anxiety: Get outside and enjoy the natural world.

“Go to the beach and read a book. Go on a hike. Hammock. Werner said, “Surf, or go for a run.” “The options in SLO are endless, especially with the number of options available.” Δ

Peter Johnson, Assistant Editor, can be reached at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.

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