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Eco-anxiety: Feeling worried about climate change?

October 23, 2023
Tracie Burgess

Do you often feel overwhelmed with worries about climate change? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. An increasing number of people report feeling worried about the environment, with many experiencing anxiety symptoms as a result. This can be referred to as eco-anxiety, climate-anxiety or eco-distress. While eco-anxiety isn’t an official diagnosis, it’s a real emotional response to the climate crisis and fears about the climate can worsen or trigger pre-existing mental health disorders.

News stories about climate change are constant, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The issues that climate change is causing should be brought to our attention so we are aware and can take notice of them. In fact, people feeling worried about climate change can be a positive thing if they’re inspired to take action and reduce their environmental footprint. However, these worries become a problem when they begin to take over your life.

From what we know, eco-anxiety is affecting young people the most. Force of Nature reports that 70% of young people feel hopeless in the face of the climate crisis, saying that many feel the burden of shouldering the responsibility of climate action, which can lead them to feeling overwhelmed and burned out. Even today’s children are being affected by climate concerns; a 2020 survey of child psychiatrists in England also found that more than half (57%) are seeing children and young people distressed about the climate crisis and the state of the environment.

So, what’s the answer? While the climate crisis is happening around us, we’re bound to feel worried about the state of the planet. However, whatever the situation, it’s important that we take care of our mental health and learn to manage our anxieties. This might involve acting ourselves and thinking about what we can do as individuals to look after the environment.

Symptoms of eco-anxiety

  • Feeling like you can’t stop worrying about the climate crisis  
  • Feeling like you can’t stop worrying about your carbon footprint
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss of appetite  
  • Feeling irritable, frustrated or angry
  • Sleep problems
  • Panic attacks  

How to manage eco-anxiety

  1. Focus on what you can do

The weight of climate change can feel overwhelming, however, we’re only in charge of our own response. Think about what you can do as an individual to take care of the planet and create positive change - this can help to feel more in control and reduce your anxiety levels.

You could calculate your carbon footprint, and based on this, make certain adjustments, whether that’s eating more plant-based food, cycling instead of driving, or buying products that are more sustainable. Alternatively, you could join an environmental society or get involved in local initiatives, like beach clean-ups. Here are some helpful resources and organisations you may wish to explore:

While reducing our carbon footprint is important, remember to show yourself compassion. Our modern way of living means that it’s almost impossible to cut out everything that’s detrimental to the climate. You’re just one person and there’s only so much you can reasonably do.  

  1. Connect with nature  

Spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. Research into eco-therapy (a type of formal treatment which involves doing activities outside in nature) can help with mild to moderate depression and anxiety. You might want to go for a walk in the countryside, take up gardening or sit in a park and watch the wildlife.

  1. Talk about how you’re feeling

While taking action is important, so is talking about how you feel. Not only does talking about your emotions help you to make sense of them and process them, it can also be a relief to voice what’s happening in your head. You may also find that other people feel the same and decide to make environmentally friendly changes together.  

  1. Talking therapy

If you’re unable to control your worries or feelings of anxiety are interfering with your life, you may want to seek professional therapy. At ieso we offer online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which aims to challenge negative thought patterns and give you the tools you need to stay in control of your mental health. Our service is free for some NHS patients. Click here to check whether the service is available in your area.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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