The human condition of climate anxiety is being demonstrated by the fact that humans are living in uncertainty about the future. How we might continue our existence. “Direct impacts are already happening. For example, the widespread occurrence of wildfires in areas where there are EPA indicates an increased wildfire season length, as well as in frequency and area burned,” says Kassondra Glenn, LMSW, a social worker and recovery specialist with Prosperity Haven.
Even those who are not directly affected by the climate crisis’ effects may feel them. They can see data and use it to create scenarios in their heads to increase stress levels and anxiety around it. “Dysregulation can show up as muscle tension, digestive changes, racing thoughts, mood swings, fight/flight/freeze responses, and much more,” says Glenn.
And when this is experienced chronically, the fear and worry can be attributed to “climate anxiety,” which unfortunately can worsen and grow more cumbersome as the climate crisis worsens.
What is Climate Anxiety?
“Climate change anxiety is an experience of overwhelm related to all that surrounds negative environmental shifts on our planet, with humans being a part of nature and thus closely tied to the environment,” says Glenn. Both data and the shifts we can see and sense play a part of anxiety around climate change.
Glenn says that climate anxiety symptoms include somatic signs such as muscle tension, digestive changes, changes in sleeping patterns, psychological signs such as racing thoughts and rumination, and finally, relational signs such as shifting choices about having or not having children due the state and potential state of the planet.
While some anxieties can lead to extreme and irrational thoughts about climate change, the root cause and issue, how to stop climate change and its effect on our lives, is valid and rational.
And so, unless there’s more insight regarding what climate change is and how to help climate change from destroying the planet and impacting our future, climate change anxiety and mental distress can take effect and be hard to mitigate without such answers.
How to Manage Climate Anxiety
The best way of managing anxiety about climate change is to first recognize the anxiety and then address it. being proactiveWe should be looking at all possible ways to help combat climate change.
You’re not wrong to have fears about it, and so that’s important to take note of before developing a field guide to climate anxiety and implementing practices to ease anxiety and feel more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
“Anxiety is an uncomfortable experience that can be tempting to push away, and we often think that ignoring anxiety will cause it to go away; however, what we ignore tends to grow larger,” says Glenn. Recognizing climate change anxiety and its existence gives us the opportunity to identify the root causes and practice nervous system regulation to manage any tension or fear.
After acknowledging climate change anxiety for what it is and why it’s an issue, Allow for griefAs part of the healing process, they can manifest and be experienced. Glenn says that grief is one of the most common emotions associated with climate change anxiety. “We are grieving our planet, the futures we thought we would have, and all that has already been lost to climate change,” says Glenn.
“If we only show up for anxiety itself, we are putting a band-aid on the root causes, so it’s important to let ourselves cry, to let ourselves be angry or scared, and yes, to let ourselves grieve,” Glenn says.
Avoid isolation by accepting support groups or therapy and embrace it
Once we’ve grieved, we can then create action steps to problem solve and ease climate anxiety and to prevent further damage due to mental strain. “Reach out for connection, as mental health tends to deteriorate when we are isolated, where if we don’t have spaces to express our anxiety and all that underlies it, it can get worse,” says Glenn.
Connecting can mean talking to trusted friends, meeting others with similar interests or concerns about climate change in a peer-oriented support group. You can also see a mental health professional to talk one-on-one about how to manage your anxiety and symptoms related to climate change.
Use Mindfulness and Grounding Techniques
It’s also helpful to practice grounding techniques. “In moments where overwhelm is high, it can be additionally important to have techniques for nervous system regulation on hand, which can look like meditation, mindfulness, and/or coping skills,” says Glenn.
You might benefit from doing so with others’ assistance or presence, too, which also promotes that sense of community and connectedness, too. “Engaging with people on a regular basis can additionally help to widen our window of tolerance, which in turn helps to increase the nervous systems’ capacity over time,” Glenn says.
DBT Therapy is an option
Glenn also recommends looking into distress tolerance skills. These skills are designed to ease anxiety and promote calmness during times of intense overwhelm. “Distress tolerance skills are intended to regulate the nervous system quickly, and are based in a type of therapy called DBT (dialectical behavior therapy),” says Glenn.
You can get DBT training and therapy through therapy. However, these DBT skills are also possible to be self-taught in nature. This is especially useful for those times when a therapist is unavailable or not available.
A Diagram of flowThis is useful in choosing the right distress tolerance skills as part of managing climate change anxiety.
“As always, it is advisable to consult with a mental health professional on your individual situation, as everyone’s mental health challenges are unique, and what may work for some may not for others,” says Glenn.