Global Warming And Mental Health: Is Eco-Anxiety Real?

Global warming and climate change are explored often in terms of how they impact our environment and ecosystem. However, it is not surprising that our mental health is also taking a hit because of the gradual negative changes in the biosphere.

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We feel uneasy watching natural disasters unfold through our television screens. Facebook posts or Tweets about polar bear displacement in the Arctic due to the melting ice caps horrify us. We dread each coming summer as it becomes hotter and hotter every year.

Because of both climate change and a pandemic, we cannot help but acknowledge the uncertainty of our future.

What Is Eco-Anxiety?

Eco-anxiety describes fear and helplessness caused by environmental and ecological dangers. It is very much an existing clinical mental condition despite not being in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The word ‘eco-anxiety’, also known as ‘eco-grief’ or ‘climate-anxiety’, re-emerged in 2005. The American Psychology Association (APA) recognizes it as the chronic fear of possible environmental doom.

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What Causes Eco-Anxiety?

Human actions have turned our planet into a massive oven.  Increasing temperatures mean extinction for species that cannot adapt. Anxiety in the face of this situation is a natural response. 

It is easy to feel helpless or even frustrated. As individuals, we cannot stop the planet’s destruction. Governments and large corporations also need to take steps in substantially reducing our carbon footprint.  

The media also contributes to eco-anxiety. The coverage of natural phenomena happening all over the globe can be overwhelming. Numerous articles on habitat destruction and even species extinctions also make headlines online. Our exposure to various media resources can contribute to unnecessary stress.

In a 2018 survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, around 70% of Americans were aware of this global crisis – with the majority worried about the harm of climate change to their area. These effects include extreme heat, flooding, droughts, and water shortages. Similar results were still observed in a more recent poll by the APA in 2020. Many of the respondents even felt endangered by climate change. They also worried about how this can impact their mental health.

Aside from fear and anxiety, many who experience eco-anxiety also express guilt. Many feel guilty for being incapable of controlling global warming.

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Feelings of guilt are more prevalent among those who have children when contemplating the future. Andrew Bryant, a therapist from Tacoma, Washington, shared that a client of his had this same concern in 2016. His client was having a difficult time deciding on whether to have a child or not. Their partner wanted to have a baby. However, the client was too afraid to let the child grow up in an apocalyptic-like future.

Who Is Affected By Eco-Anxiety?

Everyone is susceptible to eco-anxiety. However, not everyone is affected equally. People who depend on climate or their environment can be more easily affected by eco-anxiety.

Those whose livelihood or homes are in danger zones experience anxiety. Natural disasters threaten their very survival. People who have survived calamities such as typhoons, hurricanes, and tsunamis, are also very vulnerable.

Eco-anxiety is common among individuals who feel a strong sense of responsibility towards our planet. Those with pre-existing mental health disorders might manifest eco-anxiety as well.

How Is Eco-Anxiety Being Managed? 

Resolving global warming and climate change requires governmental, corporal, and societal efforts. However, when managing eco-anxiety, the smallest steps can come a long way.

Personal management of eco-anxiety may include:

1. Taking positive action

Minimize your carbon footprint by practicing sustainable living and zero waste management. This can make you feel more accomplished and help in reducing your feelings of powerlessness.

2. Educating yourself and others

Learning more about the environment and becoming more informed can make you feel empowered. Sharing what you have learned with others also helps in raising awareness about global warming and mental health.

 3. Connecting with nature

Spending more time outdoors boosts your mood and helps you establish a personal connection with nature.

4. Improving self-resiliency

Increasing your emotional resilience is a demanding but necessary step in overcoming any mental health condition. Improving self-resiliency can be achieved through the following:

  • self-care
  • avoiding isolation
  • keeping supportive and encouraging relationships
  • creating goals and working towards them

5. Logging off

It is easy to be influenced by the information we get from different media platforms. Knowing when to disengage can help you decrease the stress you experience from consuming media.

 6. Seeking professional help

Getting professional help is still one of the best ways of handling any mental condition. Tips in managing anxiety are available online. However, mental health professionals can offer you a more personalized way of coping with it.

What Are The Responses To Eco-Anxiety?

Eco-anxiety was initially a topic of discomfort for mental health professionals. They lacked adequate training in this area. They didn’t know how to approach this topic objectively with their clients.

Climate-related stress and trauma cases have been increasing. Many mental health professionals have since incorporated eco-anxiety into their practice. They use eco-anxiety in ecopsychology. This is the branch of psychology dealing with the processes that connect and separate us from nature. It also tackles how these processes impact our identity and well-being.

Tree Staunton, a climate psychotherapist from Bath, England, has been advocating for the addition of climate change in the context of therapy. With these systemic changes in psychotherapy, we are positive to see more established management for eco-anxiety soon.

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