Intense heat waves. Severe weather damage. As dramatic events like floods, hurricanes, fires, and droughts have become frequent occurrences, it’s only natural to be concerned about what climate change may mean for our future. But for some of us, climate anxiety becomes overwhelming, leading to low moods or a sense of dread or hopelessness.
There is a difference of opinion about whether climate anxiety is a clinical condition, but both the United Nations and the American Psychological Association (APA) have found that people are increasingly at risk of climate change-induced mental health issues, especially young people.
The Prevalence of Climate Anxiety
In a 2021 global study published in The Lancet Planetary Health of 10,000 young people ages 16 – 25 in ten countries (Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, the UK, and the USA):
- 45 percent of respondents said climate anxiety was affecting their daily lives.
- More than 50 percent reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty.
“We were disturbed by the scale of emotional and psychological effects of climate change upon the children of the world, and the number who reported feeling hopeless and frightened about the future of humanity,” the research team wrote. “It underscores an urgent need for greater responsiveness to children and young people’s concerns, more in-depth research, and immediate action on climate change.”
Finding Satisfaction in Climate Action
Beyond the self-care strategies we may use to reduce other sources of anxiety — such as exercise, meditation, walking outdoors — taking specific actions to address climate change can help support our mental well-being.
In her TED Talk, “How to find joy in climate action,” marine biologist and policy expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., encourages us to create our own Climate Action Venn Diagram in which we ask ourselves, “What am I good at? What is the work that needs doing? What brings me joy and satisfaction?”
The point at which the three answers come together is a great place to start, Johnson says. Whether through protecting forests or oceans, building a bicycle infrastructure in our neighborhood, or promoting family planning and education, there are many ways we can reduce stress by using our interests and skills to develop solutions.
Even if we’re not experiencing climate anxiety, that’s no cause for complacency, as Greta Thunberg reminds us. Climate change is real and is affecting the health of our population. Climate change demands urgent action from all of us.
Local Opportunities for Making a Difference
In January 2021, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability published a Philadelphia Climate Action Playbook (in English and Spanish) that details the climate actions the City is taking. Residents can sign up for the newsletter to stay informed and get involved. In addition, the region is home to dozens of local action organizations including 350philadelphia and the Clean Air Council.
What else can we do? The United Nations Environment Programme recommends:
- Leave your car at home and walk, bike, or take public transportation whenever possible. Get a hybrid or electric vehicle if you can.
- Rein in your power use by turning down your heating a degree or two, switching off appliances and lights when not using them, and use more energy-efficient appliances.
- Eat more plant-based meals, which ultimately helps reduce the amount of agricultural land used for livestock grazing.
- Shop locally for groceries, which reduces the energy used to transport foods.
- Try to waste less food. Food waste contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Buy fewer new clothes and wear them longer. The fashion industry accounts for 8 – 10 percent of global carbon emissions.
- Plant trees.
- Spread the word about the urgency of fighting climate change.
- Encourage local politicians and businesses to cut their emissions and reduce their carbon footprint.
“The best way to cope…is to avoid dwelling on the terrifying scientific projections and instead pivot quickly to solutions,” Johnson says. “Choose the things that enliven you. The goal is to be at the heart of the Venn diagram for as many minutes of your life as you can.”
For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.