How to Cope with Climate Anxiety

The opposite of sensitive is not brave. It’s not brave to refuse to pay attention, to refuse to notice, to refuse to feel and know and imagine. The opposite of sensitive is insensitive, and that’s no badge of honor.”

-Glennon Doyle, Untamed

I am listening to Untamed by Glennon Doyle on Audible when unexpectedly she starts talking about her daughter learning about climate change, the ice caps melting, and polar bears starving. Her daughter is devastated and wants to understand. I was struck by the realization Glennon has about her daughters sensitivity. Yes it is brave to feel! Yes it is brave to analyze the parts of us that are sensing something has gone horribly wrong here!

I’m an average millennial with feet craving distant soil, a mind wandering through a digital age, and a passionate heart for making the world a better place. As a young, firey child released into the Colorado Rocky Mountains, I fell deeply in love with the wild. In high school, I started learning about climate change (back when we called it global warming) and I developed a constant sense of anxiety that my future was destined to be a desolate dystopian horror film. Driven mainly by fear that my childhood forests and wildlife friends wouldn’t make it out alive, I pursued an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Conservation Biology. Among my many progressive collegiate efforts, I helped start the CSU Zero Waste Team. I saw the amount of waste created by only one university and felt astonished by the lack of infrastructure to handle that waste. I felt like the pressured t know all the answers because my future was on the line. I crumbled under the weight of the world’s trash and CO2 and I developed an anxious, depressed, hopeless state of mind – which I’ve now identified as climate anxiety. I knew conservation work was my calling, but facing the truth of our environmental crisis made me want to escape.  I had to look away so I turned inward. I analyzed my feelings and realized I felt a lot of shame, fear, and guilt around climate change and environmental degradation, which are not good motivators! I embarked on a self-care journey of inner work so I can tap into these powerful feelings and use them for good.

What is Climate Anxiety?

Climate anxiety is the manifestation of powerful and challenging emotions evoked by the effects and anticipation of climate change. These feelings are a logical human reaction to the intensity of climate change. Untreated, climate anxiety can lead to sleep problems, panic attacks, general anxiety or obsessive thinking, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, pre-traumatic stress reactions, and suicidal thoughts. Panu Pahkala, a Finnish expert on climate anxiety discovered youth and farmers are the two groups experiencing climate anxiety the most.

How to deal with Climate Anxiety

If you are uncomfortable — in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused — you don’t have a problem, you have a life. Being human is not hard because you’re doing it wrong, it’s hard because you’re doing it right. 

-I’m quoting Untamed by Glenonn Doyle again because she’s incredible at articulating the strength behind accepting our human emotions
  1. Accept it, Feel it, Determine it
    • Negative feelings about climate change are valid and understandable! Brave are those who are sensitive enough to feel the urgency and despair of our climate situation. Brave are those who accept feelings, sit with them, dive deeper to understand the origin and seek reconstruction. 
    • Helpful questions to ask yourself:
      • Can you put a name to this feeling? fear? guilt? despair?
      • What were you doing when this feeling surfaced?
      • Can you sit with this powerful feeling for a moment before distracting yourself?
      • Is there something you can do to help right now?
    • Seek guidance if you need help processing these emotions or identifying exactly what you are feeling and where it came from. Currently, there are no psychology professionals specifically trained in managing climate anxiety, but psychologists can work through coping mechanisms for anxiety, depression, and grief. Check out this awesome resource Climate & Mind
    • Sometimes negative emotions need a physical outlet:
      • Go for a run
      • scream into a pillow
      • throw paint at a canvas
      • sob loudly
      • dance your heart out
  2. Change How We Talk and Think About Climate Change
    • In an essay, Susan Kassouf writes about the idea that we could view our relationship with fossil fuels as a transition resource. We can choose to see our dependency on fossil fuels as a lesson and opportunity to grow and explore clean energy and focus on a brighter future instead of feeling shameful about the current system. 
    • Try turning shame and fear into love and motivation:
      • Are you concerned about your future? Try focusing on how good it would feel to have a healthy, clean future instead of feeling fearful for the opposite. 
      • Are you concerned about the health of the oceans? Try focusing on all of amazing science and clean up efforts and imagine ways you can help.
      • Are you concerned about cute fuzzy wildlife? Don’t watch disturbing videos of habitat destruction, instead post cute photos of your favorite wildlife around your home and on your phone. Focus on how incredible it will feel to see that animal in the wild and brainstorm ways you can contribute to its habitat protection.  
  3. Take Action & Create Community
    • Making small changes in our everyday routines lowers our carbon footprint, waste, and most importantly sends social ripples through the world creating a new standard. Follow my instagram eco tips for how you can make small changes in your everyday life that have a big effect! 
    • Seek out local groups actively making a difference for the planet! Or join online eco groups for support and inspiration.
  4. Give yourself Grace
    • “Progress over perfection” is my eco-friendly mantra. I spent so much time feeling like I needed to have all the answers. I could feel the weight of environmental degradation on my shoulders.  I had to find grace and remember we are all in this together.
    • Even small changes like using reusables instead of single-use have a social ripple effect. Even if you’re feeling like you’re not making a difference when you’re in line at the coffee shop and the five people in front of you got plastic this and plastic that, you’re changing the social norm. The social ripples we send out will reach far beyond reusables if we keep moving forward on our eco-friendly journey. Plus, maybe the lady standing behind you saw you looking powerful and independent with your reusable cup and felt inspired to remember hers next time.
  5. Meet people where they are
    • Susan Kassouf writes, “Whether or not we have a firm grasp on all of the science, ordinary Americans … are aware in their bones that conditions on our planet continue to go horribly awry”. People know there is a problem and they are going to accept it in their own time, we cannot force them. They may be in a stage of denial or confusion or maybe somewhere in the process of accepting their feelings. We can show up for ourselves and lead by example!
  6. Require Strong Leadership and Policy 
    • Arguably one of the best actions we can take toward climate change migration is demanding officials address the issues and hold industry accountable for actions affecting environmental health. Vote for political officials with plans to hold corporations responsible and who will focus on solving climate change for the benefit of all people.
    • Call your representatives, write letters, and stay in-the-know.

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

-Anne Marie Bonneau

Is There Hope?

Most high school and general chemistry classes explain the breakdown of ozone by CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). CFCS are compounds that were found in aerosol products, A/C units, refrigerators, and insulation in the 1940s. They created a “hole” in the ozone, which is an important layer of our atmosphere that protects us from harmful radiation.

Basically here is what happened: scientists noticed the problem and were able to communicate the situation in a way that allowed the general population to firmly understand three critical pieces

1) the problem and why they were at risk of harm

2) the cause of the problem

3) exactly what they could do to take action as part of the solution.

Scientists predict the hole will be healed by 2050. Success!!

Solving climate change has more moving parts than the ozone solutions, but as more people understand the strongest drivers of climate change, we can illustrate how they will be affected and how they can take action in the solution to migrate climate change with us! There is hope!

I hope this information helps you manage any negative climate change feelings you are experiencing. Please contact me if you have more questions or comments! Explore more mindfulness information related to an eco-friendly journey. Click here!

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