Have you ever felt helpless, angry, scared, exhausted, or even hopeless, about the state of our planet? News about heat waves, floods, deadly wildfires, droughts, famine and other disasters, remind us of the devastating effects of the climate crisis on an almost daily basis. Constantly being confronted with news reports about extreme weather events and entire species going extinct, naturally affects our mental health. The climate emergency takes a heavy toll, because global warming not only threatens the habitats of plants and animals, but also our own existence, making it one of the great challenges of our time. Emotions such as fear, sadness, anger, despair and resignation are common reactions and these feelings, also referred to as climate anxiety or eco-anxiety, are particularly widespread among young people. In a survey conducted in ten countries, 59 percent of 16-25-year-olds responded, they were so concerned about the effects of climate change, that it impacted their daily lives.
Photo: Chad Madden, Unsplash
In my personal life, as well as in my online counselling practice, I encounter more and more people who are experiencing emotional distress caused by the climate crisis and thus develop symptoms similar to those of burnout, such as helplessness, fatigue and depressive moods. Some people also show avoidance behaviour. They believe that there’s nothing they can do about the impending climate catastrophe anyway, and therefore, choose to ignore and not deal with the issue at all, in order to avoid their own feelings of powerlessness.
The climate crisis, therefore, is not only an ecological disaster but also a psychological crisis. This is another reason why it is important to take the dangers associated with our warming planet seriously and to commit ourselves to preserving our environment, for our own future, and that of our children and grandchildren.
Fighting climate change, however, requires mental strength and resilience, because engagement, especially political engagement, takes a lot of effort and can sometimes even lead to “activism burnout”. That’s why, in this article, I’m sharing five helpful tips to help you care for your mental health and stay strong in the face of the climate crisis:
Switch off regularly
Hardly a day passes without some climate-related story hitting the headlines. This permanent exposure to the topic can be very stressful and can easily lead to emotional overwhelm. In order to avoid this, I recommend setting yourself daily limits and a fixed time at which you consciously consume news. This could, for example, mean reading the newspaper while you’re having breakfast or watching an evening news programme at the same time every day. Once you have read or watched the news, put your smartphone or newspaper aside, close your laptop, or change the TV programme and allow yourself to distance yourself from the news. By limiting your news consumption, you will find it easier to continue to participate in everyday life and not get lost in negative thoughts and feelings.
The purpose of limiting your media exposure is not to shut your eyes to what is happening in the world, but to develop a conscious and healthy approach to media and news. Through mindful news consumption, you can stay informed while also remaining resilient in dealing with the climate crisis.
Consciously focus on the positive
Make a conscious effort to surround yourself with plenty of positivity! Don’t just follow activists’ accounts and general news coverage on Instagram, but fill your social media feeds with content that makes you smile and feel good. You can also deliberately consume “good news”, using media outlets focused on sharing positive news, such as GoodNews.eu.
You can find more tips on how to sharpen your eye for the positive in this blog post.
Talk about it
If a current event is upsetting you, talk about it! Whether it’s with your family, your friends, people you know who are also committed to protecting the planet or who share similar concerns, or even with your therapist – talking to others will help you to better process what is happening and can make you feel less alone with your anxiety, sadness and anger.
Joining communities and engaging with other like-minded individuals, can also help to collectively fight climate anxiety. Not only will the community and support of others help to combat feelings of loneliness and helplessness – as a group, we can also have a much bigger impact than on our own! More on that in the next paragraph.
Negative feelings aren’t necessarily always a bad thing. Sometimes, they are the prerequisite for the motivation to want to change something. And doing something to protect our planet can have a positive effect on our mental health. That’s why I recommend that you take action and get involved! Draw public attention to the consequences of the climate emergency, go to demonstrations, start, sign and share petitions, and collect or donate money to organisations fighting climate change.
All this can help you to counteract the feeling of being powerless. And on top of that, being committed to climate protection and taking action to combat global warming, can help to give you a purpose and make your life feel more meaningful.
Take care of yourself
You can only make a positive difference, take action against climate change and work towards a more sustainable future, if you also take the time to look after your own physical and mental health. Healthy eating, regular exercise and practising mindfulness are all things that can help you feel better. Take care of your mind and body and practise self-compassion, because self-care has positive effects on stress management and recovery and is one of the keys to building resilience – something we now need more than ever.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you’re faced with the devastating impacts of climate change on the news? Have you also experienced feelings of fear, hopelessness or anger?
Hopefully, this post has helped you understand and handle your climate anxiety better. If you feel like you need additional advice, a therapist can help you cope with your feelings and support you in building your resilience.
Photo: Francesca di Pasqua, Unsplash