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Dealing with climate anxiety

Australia has already experienced increases in average temperatures over the past 60 years, with more frequent hot weather, fewer cold days, shifting rainfall patterns and rising sea levels leading to erratic weather events.

Sweating businessman due to hot climate
Published:

06/10/2023

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Converge International

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Australia has already experienced increases in average temperatures over the past 60 years, with more frequent hot weather, fewer cold days, shifting rainfall patterns, and rising sea levels leading to erratic weather events.

While scientists, campaigners, and some politicians have warned about the adverse effects of global temperatures rising for decades – these heatwaves, droughts, and floods have become a regular fixture of our news cycles and our social media feeds in recent memory and have played out in front of our very eyes. This has led to the term ‘climate anxiety’ being coined by those raising the alarm about the adverse effects of climate change on our mental health.

WHAT IS CLIMATE ANXIETY?

Put simply, climate anxiety (or eco-anxiety) is a sense of fear, worry or tension linked to climate change.

Fundamentally, it is an adaptive emotional reaction to a very real threat and is not a clinical condition. However, in some cases climate anxiety can become so intense as to become classified as an adjustment disorder or even an anxiety disorder.

People who are experiencing climate anxiety can suffer from a range of emotions that can be separated into general clusters:

  1. Amazement when receiving information about how bad the ecological situation is in the world. Surprise at the slow ecological recovery or lack of progress made in reducing carbon emissions.
  2. Disappointment in the general lack of urgency.
  3. Confusion about climate change and how they’re feeling about it.
  4. Shock about the vastness of the devastation climate change brings.
  5. Trauma following a major disaster and ‘pre-traumatic stress’ in anticipation of harmful environmental changes.
  6. Isolation is if one’s community does not recognise the validity of your feelings about climate change or action.
  7. Anger is rooted in the injustice and corruption around climate change inaction.
  8. Rage is a psychological or psychosocial defence against threats felt to self and/or group identity.
  9. Frustration that growing awareness is not leading to enough action.
  10. Strong anxiety manifests when a person simply cannot handle their feelings and a fear that one cannot ‘feel better’.
  11. Depression is caused by a sense of worthlessness, guilt and shame that they’re perhaps not doing enough to change the situation and feelings that ‘nothing can be done about it’.
  12. Numbness in response to not being able to handle difficult emotions — this is made worse if a person feels powerless.

 

5 THINGS PEOPLE CAN DO TO DEAL WITH CLIMATE ANXIETY

While some anxieties can develop into a disorder, in many cases, taking action on a personal level can help remedy anxieties and manage what’s in our control.

  1. Give your time to an environmental cause. While we can’t solve the world’s environmental issues on our own, actions that help the planet can have positive effects on multiple levels. It can initiate positive actions amongst others, as well as improve our own climate anxiety. You could reach out to your local government and find out how you can volunteer in your local community to improve the places you love and live in. Action might include cleaning streets, parks and beaches of litter, or simply minimising your own household waste.
  2. Educate yourself further. Getting accurate information from credible news sources about the environment can empower you and help you feel prepared and resilient if a crisis occurs. Relying on inaccurate information or having a lack of information can make climate change hard to understand and process.
  3. Foster resiliency. People who feel positively about their ability to overcome stress and trauma may handle anxiety better than people with less confidence in their resiliency skills. To improve these, practicing mental fitness techniques is key, where you set achievable goals and move steadily toward them. These goals can range from improving personal connections to focusing on a positive self-image.
  4. Know when to discourage. Without realising it, your feelings can be influenced by the information you see each day in the media, politics, advertising, and social media platforms. Seeing this information over and over again can cause stress, especially if it is inaccurate, biased, or presented in a hyperbolic way. Although it’s good to be a well-informed citizen, being exposed to an overwhelming amount of information or lots of untrustworthy information can create anxiety. Reevaluating sources of environmental information or cutting back from certain media sources, even temporarily, may help reduce your stress levels.
  5. Being active. Exercise is a fantastic way to reduce anxiety. Using your car contributes to greenhouse gasses so, if you can, why not walk to work or to your commuter station? Furthermore, studies have also shown that people who regularly cycle or walk, either entirely or part-way to work, experience lower levels of commuting stress.

While extreme anxiety may become problematic, climate anxiety has emerged because it is something of a “necessary evil. The damage to ecosystems is so vast and inaction is so widespread that some degree of eco stress can be beneficial in promoting positive action. That being said, if you are dealing with severe eco-anxiety, or anxiety that does not respond to self-care management tips, you may need professional help to address your anxiety.

See your doctor or, to talk to a mental health professional, talk to one of our friendly


If you might be having climate anxiety and it’s impacting your day-to-day life, Converge counsellors are here to help and support you. You might have access to free counselling through your employer.

To access Converge counselling services, simply call 1300 OUR EAP (1300 687 327) to make a time to speak with one of our team or book online or in the Converge App (Android or iOS).

 

 

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